Bosnia and Herzegovina [Photos]

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The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was not originally part of our planned trek around the Adriatic. During our week in Dubrovnik, though, we decided that a day trip to the cultural capital of Mostar was in order. It was only a short bus ride, and from everything we had heard, it was a very different place from the Croatian coast, beautiful in a distinct way.

Hopping on our tour bus, we had little idea what to expect. Our minibus spent an hour or so hugging the coastline of the Adriatic, briefly crossing from Croatia to Bosnia and back to Croatia again (Bosnia has only a small sliver of coastline, where a single town, Neum, resides.)

"Neum (BiH) - general view" by Pudelek (Marcin Szala) - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neum_(BiH)_-_general_view.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Neum_(BiH)_-_general_view.jpg
“Neum (BiH) – general view” by Pudelek (Marcin Szala) – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

From there we turned inland and crossed the border one more time, this time headed into the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). It was, as promised, stunning in a completely different way than the coast.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

The vast majority of the country is rural, with a few major cities like Mostar, Doboj and Sarajevo. Our trip into Bosnia began with one of the small, rural towns, called Počitelj. Situated on a hill, we hopped out of the bus and trekked up to the mosque near the top. It was here we witnessed our first breathtaking panorama of the country.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

The town itself was small, with a restaurant, a mosque, a number of residences, and even some ruins. Once upon a time the city was the administrative center for Dubrava county, and the architecture is a blend of classic medieval and that of the Ottoman Empire.

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Yes, we climbed to the top. Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

Our stop in Počitelj was brief, but we did manage to explore, and climb to the top of one of the ruins. Then it was back onto the bus and off to Mostar.

The city is most famous for its iconic bridge, Stari Most (Old Bridge) and the city itself is named for the bridge-keepers, or mostari. The Old Bridge is not just one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in the region, it is also symbolic of a bridge between cultures.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

The original bridge was built in the 16th century, and it stood until 1993, when it was destroyed during the wars that plagued the region during that era. After our day trip, Tara and I went online and found video footage of the destruction of Stari Most. It was possibly one of the most heart-wrenching things we’ve ever seen.

Since the war, the bridge has been reconstructed, piece by piece. Chunks of stone were dredged from the river and painstakingly dried and reconstructed. The bridge officially reopened in 2004, reuniting the two sides of Mostar. This has paved the way to a surge in tourism, and an age-old profession — bridge diving. Practiced divers will collect tips and, when they have enough money, they will dive from the bridge and to the Neretva river beneath.

The two sides of Mostar are still very segregated in many ways. We ate lunch on the side that primarily home to Christians and Croats, then crossed the bridge to the Muslim side. Here it was like stepping into another part of the world entirely. The streets were set up bazaar-style, selling everything from hookahs to magnets to Turkish slippers. There were mosques sprinkled throughout, and at the prescribed four times a day loudspeakers came to life, projecting the sounds of prayer across the city.

The streets of Mostar, filled with shops.
The streets of Mostar, filled with shops. Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

We had a chance to visit one of these mosques. The inside of the mosque was beautiful; it was simple, but ornate.

 

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

After peeking around, we decided to climb to the top of the minaret. It was potentially one of the most harrowing climbs of my life. Since it was a Muslim place of worship, we were asked to remove our shoes and wear provided slippers. This would normally be fine, but my feet are abnormally small and the slippers were not meant for them. Climbing up the steep, spiral staircase (while wearing a skirt, no less) was a recipe for disaster.

Luckily we prevailed.

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Minaret that we climbed. Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

Less than twenty years ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina was deep in the grip of war. As we left Počitelj and moved into Mostar we saw that many of the old scars are still visible. It is not like neighboring Croatia, where the tourism industry has relegated relics of war to museums and the incredibly observant eye. Bosnia wears its wounds on its surface, and Mostar was one of the fiercest battlegrounds.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

Yet amid the ruined shells of bombed out houses, life goes on — thrives, even. And the beauty of this country still prevails.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

Our experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of those that resonated deeply. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, a region where many Bosnian and Croatian refugees sought refuge in the early 1990s. I was surrounded by their stories as a child, but as I grew up I realized that the war was vastly misunderstood outside of my area. Many people I talked to in America (especially those around my age) admitted to knowing nothing about the region, only that “something bad” had happened there when we were young.

Actually being there, walking in the footsteps of our refugee friends, was powerful and overwhelming. As we climbed into the bus late that afternoon, we were silent, absorbing the impact of being in a place that was so beautiful, but had endured so much.

We returned to Dubrovnik in respectful silence, reflecting.

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Image (c) 2014, Outbound Adventurer

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  • Even though australia is my home, my heart always remains in Bosnia, my birthplace. Sadly the war took the opportunity to grow up in this beautiful land but i am thankful for people like you, who show light on this beautiful place. It started my own blog, to continue showing people all around the world how beautiful Bosnia & Hercegovina (part where im from) is and why they should add it to their bucket lists. Ive done 3 separate trips back home in just 14 months and plan on going every year to re discover my roots. And its helped my bosnian language skills alot, as i mostly speak english at home. I HIGH RECOMMEND anyone traveling to Europe to add BOSNIA to their list. You wont regret it, and it will keep you coming back for more!

    http://www.thebosnianaussie.wordpress.com
    instagram.com/thebosnianaussie

    • Hi Ariana, thank you for the comment! Bosnia was a wonderful country, and I can’t wait to return and see more of it.

      If you liked this post, you might also want to check out this other one I wrote for a different website: http://passionpassport.com/wanderlust-story-jessi-honard-stari-most/

      If you want a language partner, feel free to e-mail me at admin@outboundadventurer.com. I’ve been learning Serbo-Croatian for a year or so, but it’s slow going without someone to chat with. 🙂

      I agree – Bosnia should be on everyone’s bucket list!

  • What a great experience to visit this area. I haven’t seen many pictures of Bosnia and Herzegovina other than what media has shown as a war torn county. I’m glad to see that the beauty still shines through. That mosque is beautiful and certainly worth the effort to get up there.

  • Gorgeous photos – I’ve heard great things about visiting here. The bridge is amazing. I unfortunately don’t know too much about the history but can only imagine – I had no idea so many ended up in Ohio.

  • It is a very beautiful place and I’m really glad they were eventually able to repair the bridge. I would really like to learn more about the history of the country, maybe I will do some more reading!

  • Unfortunately my knowledge of Bosnia and Herzegovina is relatively small but thanks to this great post I can now admit that I would love to experience this country for myself. There is clearly an abundance of history here especially in Sarajevo but that image of the river running through the city really captured my attention – awesome shot!

  • Hi 🙂 I came over from #WeekendWanderlust

    This post is sooo interesting. I haven’t made it to Bosnia, yet, but I am fascinated with Eastern Europe- having many friends from the region & travelled through central Europe a lot of the stories of the wars through the former Yugoslavia are fresh in my mind.

    Mostar is so incredibly beautiful, tho’ it’s amazing what they did with that bridge. Sad, sad times.

    • Hi Sammi, thanks for linking up! I’ve also been fascinated with the Balkans region for years — even more so now that I’ve visited. It’s such an interesting place, and not just because of the recent wars. There’s this really interesting cultural crossroads that exists, especially traveling between Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

  • Your pictures are stunning! What a beautiful place, with so much history. It’s one of the earliest conflicts I actually remember growing up. I’d love to visit one day.

    • Thanks Heather! It’s definitely worth a visit, and next time I’d love to continue on to Sarajevo. I hope you get to see it!

  • Wise decision to venture in this direction.

    As hard as they try, at least on the surface, Bosnia will quite likely remain segregated for a long time. Before the wars, Sarajevo was >the< best city in the former Yugoslavia. Most of the country's best artists, musicians and writers all came from there precisely because of its cultural and historical hodgepodge. It'll never be the same.

    PS – I grew up in Cleveland, too. 🙂

    • Always love hearing from a fellow Clevelander! Yes, the segregation in Bosnia was definitely apparent. People talked about it very matter-of-factly, but I’ve rarely seen such a distinctly divided line between cultures.

      I would love to visit Sarajevo at some point. I feel like many of these places are still in recovery mode from the wars. Even though they might never be the same, many are creating something new.

  • What a great day trip to take and see some of the neighboring towns. I’ve never been to Bosnia, but would like to go someday.

    • It’s definitely worth the trip. Next time, I’m hoping to spend more than just a single afternoon. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • Bosnia was never really on my list but I think it might be now. Something to keep in mind for when we are in that part of the world next year.

    • Bosnia never hit my bucket list either, but I’m definitely glad we had the chance to go, and I’m hoping to return!