Early in the morning, I headed southwest towards Mostar which is about a 2-hour drive from Sarajevo. Mostar is probably the best known city in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The name Herzegovina literally translates to mean a duchy or land ruled by a herzog or duke. Although the larger Bosnia region includes the northern and central parts of the country and the smaller Herzegovina region includes the southern parts, there is no defined geographical border nor is there any administrative division.
First on the road is Konjic old town which has been inhabited since 4,000 years ago. One of the highlights of Konjic is the 6-arch Old Bridge built in 1682 over Neretva river and is the last large Ottoman structure built in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is an important bridge also because it is located where Bosnia meets Herzegovina. Towards the end of WWII, Konjic Bridge was destroyed during the retreat of the Germans and only in 2009 was the bridge rebuilt in its original appearance. Also in Konjic is a nuclear bunker built for dictator Josip Tito called the Atomic War Command (ARK D-o). It was built into the mountain with a maze of offices, bedrooms, kitchen etc for Tito and 350 of his cabinet in the event of a nuclear strike. Like the bunker in Tirana, it seems that many of these Balkan dictators are paranoid about an imminent nuclear event. This bunker was kept secret with the entrance inside an unassuming house until it was discovered and now a contemporary art exhibit called D-o ARK Underground.
From Konjic, the road leads to Jablanicko lake and Jablanica which was the setting of the Battle for the Wounded or Battle of Neretva during WWII. The Axis Power was against the Partisan leadership, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia where the Partisans found themselves surrounded on the west bank of Neretva River. Josip Tito came up with a master deception where they strategically blew up the railway bridge over the river so that the Germans would think that the Partisans were planning to push north along the west bank of the river. As a result the Axis Power started redeploying their troops northwards. In the meantime, the Partisans repaired the bridge and stormed the east bank of the river to overwhelm the remaining Axis troops there. The Axis Powers could do nothing but command an air raid that again destroyed the bridge. After WWII, a new railway bridge was built and was later blown up again by director Veljko Bulajic in the making of Yugoslavian movie “The Battle of Neretva” in 1969.
About another hour drive south, we arrived at Mostar which is the highlight of this road trip. The name Mostar comes from the bridge keepers (mostari) of the 16th century Ottoman era old bridge in the center of town called Stari Most. This beautiful bridge hanging over the turquoise waters of Neretva river is probably the most photographed sight in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This iconic bridge was completely destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War and was painstakingly rebuilt to its former specifications. It became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Every summer, there will be groups of local young men diving off the bridge which used to be a coming-of-age tradition since the 1660s. Tourists sometimes participate to dive and plunge 20 meters into the freezing cold river below! The best place to photograph the bridge is from the minaret of Koskin- Mehmed Pasha Mosque. It is a bit of a climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the minaret but the view of the old bridge and Mostar is well worth the effort. After a bit of exercise, I had a nice time wandering around this beguiling little town and rewarding myself with a double scoop of homemade ice-cream. 😋
Not far from Mostar is the town of Blagaj at the spring of the Buna river which is one of Europe’s most beautiful drinkable karst river springs. Buna Spring is also one of the most powerful karst river springs with 43,000 gallons of water gushing out of the cave every second. Just next to the spring is a historical Dervish monastery called the Blagaj Tekija built into the rock face in around 1520 with a blend of Mediterranean and Ottoman styles. You can enter the monastery to learn more about the Dervish order and Sufi life and prayers are still held here.
The next and last stop on this road trip is Pocitelj which is a fortified medieval village cupped in the karst mountains and is probably one of the best preserved ensembles left in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town was in existence for many years before it was recorded in history in the 1400s and like rest of Herzegovina was conquered by the Ottomans in 1471. It remained within the Ottoman Empire until becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878. The village was quite badly damaged during the civil war in the 1990s including the 16th century Hajji Alijia Mosque which has now been restored. The entire village is like an open-air museum and nowadays only around 800 people live there. Other buildings of interest here are the silo-shaped Sahat Kula Clock Tower and the Gavrakanpetaovic house which is a typical example of residential buildings here in the 16th century. At the top is the ruins of the fortress topped by an octagonal Gavrakapetan Tower with views of the Neretva valley. The hike up to Pocitelj village is quite steep and can be a bit confusing because the cobblestone paths snakes around like a maze. Fortunately, our driver-guide dropped us off at the top and after taking in the sweeping views, we leisurely walked down the hill.
I thoroughly enjoyed my short time here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I must say it is one of the most underrated countries in Europe especially compared to its more popular neighbor Croatia. It is true that Bosnia and Herzegovina is still rough around its edges even though the civil war has ended over 20 years ago. You do get warned not to wander into open fields in rural areas in case of land mines left behind from the war, but the touristy areas are safe and has a lot to offer in terms of nature, historical old towns, great mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian buildings, friendly people, and so much more. Do visit!
From Bosnia and Herzegovina, I continue my travels to Slovakia. Stay tuned!
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