Tuesday, August 31, 2010 – Mostar to Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

Tuesday, August 31st, we met our guide for a tour of Mostar’s city center. We stopped outside of the Franciscan Monastery which was destroyed during the war with the Serbs. It was partially reconstructed but they ran out of money to complete the restoration.  

What we soon found out in Mostar was the horror of the war between Bosnia and The Serbs during 1992 to 1995. From the Bosnian point of view, The Serbs attacked Bosnia during this period and it resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people, more than half a million were wounded and more than one million refugees fled the country. 28,000 people are still missing. Among the cities, towns and settlements destroyed during that period, the city of Mostar had the most terrible fate. 70% of Mostar sustained heavy damage. A total of 2,357 buildings were demolished. Factories were also destroyed during this war, food production plants (including wine production), an aluminum plant, the “Soko” aircraft plant, cotton and tobacco plants were all destroyed. The hydro-electric power plants dam and telecommunication structures were also destroyed. Needless to say the economy is not good at the moment as there are very  few jobs. The damage to Mostar is estimated to be $400 million US!! No wonder this city looked sketchy as we drove to our hotel last night. We found out later in the day what a beautiful city this really is and no one wanted to leave.

Money from all around the world has been donated to Bosnian cities to help restore what was damaged during the war of the early 1990’s. The Croatian government donated money to Mostar to rebuild it’s Roman Catholic Church. There is a tower in the city which is 172 meters high. And the old town looks just like it use to with cobbled streets and the old stone buildings. The Herzegovina section of this area is in the south and the city of Mostar is the unofficial capital of Herzegovina. The Neretva River runs through the centre of Mostar and 7 bridges connect the two sides of the city together. The Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar’s City Centre is the highest and most important bridge in Mostar.  It was first constructed in the 16th Century from limestone found in the area. It is 29 meters long, 4 meters wide and 20 meters high. The Muslim bazaars were formed on both sides of this bridge. The bridge is a single arch over the blue/green river with two towers, one on each side. The towers are flat on the side facing the bridge and round on the other half (Semi-circles). The guards in the towers were called Mostari’s and that is how the city of Mostar got it’s name. If the two towers were put together they would be one round shape. Pieces of stone were put together by using iron clamps through the stone and pouring lead inside the holes to sealed the clamp shut. It was a beautiful bridge and many artists have painted this famous bridge. The men of Mostar have a custom of diving off the highest point of the bridge (20 meters high) to prove their strength and bravery.  This custom is still done today (for a small fee). 

The Old Bridge was destroyed on November 9, 1993 and it’s destruction symbolized the war tragedy of Bosnia. It’s reconstruction became a symbol of the restoration of the Bosnian multi-ethic society. In collaboration with organizations and countries from around the world, the Old Bridge was reconstructed using the same techniques of building as the original bridge was built and using many of the original stones.  Work began in 1998 and the bridge was completed in July 2004! This Bridge of Mostar is now known as the “The Old Bridge in Mostar-Monument of Peace”! It represents a symbol of the connection of people from different religions and nationalities. Since the reconstruction tensions are decreasing between these people (at least the younger people).

Originally Mostar was settled in 1452 and it was in the crossroads between the east and the west for people traveling by land. The first people to arrive were the Turkish people and they stayed here for 400 years. During that time many mosques, Turkish baths and Turkish homes were built in the city. Many of the Turkish influences are still here today with their customs, food, etc. In 1878 the Austrian/Hungarians occupied the area. They brought with them a modern world with new architecture, schools, universities and electricity. After WWI Bosnia became part of Yugoslavia (Southern Slavs) and in the 1940’s Tito was the dictator of Yugoslavia.  Our guide liked Tito’s era and said every thing was functioning well under Tito’s leadership. But my understanding that life under Tito’s leadership was restricted as they could not mention their religion as religion was discouraged. They were not Bosnian or Croatian or Serbian they were Yugoslavian.  So their freedom of speech was strangled but the people had jobs and could support their families. Tito died in 1980 and then everything started to fall apart. In 1992 a war started when the Serbs attacked Bosnia & Herzegovina because the Croats and Bosnians wanted independence and the Serbs did not.  Serbia (ex-Yugoslavia) helped the Serbs of Bosnia fight the Muslims and Roman Catholics. Today, the West part of Mostar is the modern area of the city where new buildings are being built like a convention centre and it is the future of Mostar.

The aluminum plant is now operating but previously 9,000 people were employed and today 600 people are employed. Before the war the three cultures lived happily together.  They were all part of Yugoslavia and many marriages were between a Muslim and Catholic or an Orthodox and Catholic.  But today because of the recent war there is tension between the different cultures and many of these marriages broke up. The younger people are now mixing but parents and grandparents have trouble with the mixing of the cultures especially with the Serbs.

The temperature of Mostar is mediterranean with very hot summers and cool winters.  Snow is very rare and the temperature usually never goes below 10 degrees C. Roofs on the houses are made of stone because the stone helps to keep the house cool during the hot summers.  The streets are paved with round stones. It is said that the reason for the roundness was because the women have to look down to walk so they would not trip on the rounded stones in their high heels and this was good because they could not make eye contact with the men which was seen as disrespectful or sinful by the Turkish men. Any homeowner that had these round stones in front of their houses meant they were rich. 

Our guide discussed her experience during the war.  She was 6 years old and remembers a school being started in a shelter with no light and there was very little food in the city. Their house was bombed and damaged but they survived. Her father left every day to go fight and she lost a cousin but she said her family was lucky. People walked around the city during the night because during the day they could get shot by a sniper in the hills surrounding the city. Food was dropped from airplanes and trucks distributed food to the people.  Also food was sold on the black market. Many people would pick grass to supplement their food for survival. It appeared to us that the Croatians and Bosnians get along but they both had difficulty forgetting and forgiving what the Serbians did to them. However, the more people you ask about the reason for the war, the more different stories you hear. It was a very complicated war and the reasons vary depending on which culture you belonged to.

Another interesting place we had the privilege to visit was a Turkish home.  The kitchen was a separate building from the main house, in case of a fire.  Opposite the kitchen was another building for the toilet which previously was just a hole in the ground.

The house was built just off the main street to give security to the family and their whole yard was surrounded by high walls.  The walls gave the courtyard shade during the hot summers and protected the homeowners from the wind.  They would sit out in the courtyard and drink coffee with their friends. The last and most important reason for the high walls was to protect the women from any men’s view. 

The second floor and the inside of the home was made of intricate carved wood. The family lived in the upper floor. The Turkish men had several wives and that was allowed as long as he treated them all equally. The woman did not leave their home very often so they would weave carpets on big looms to keep busy.

There was a Turkish custom of drinking coffee and there was usually a pot of coffee on a large pot with hot embers in the bottom. There was also another pot of coffee on top of another pot which was cold.  When visitors come they were always offered coffee. If a visitor received a cup of cold coffee that was a signal that he was not welcome and he was to drink the coffee quickly and leave.  If the coffee was hot the visitor was welcomed to stay for as long as he wanted.

We were also shown the clothes that were worn.  Large baggy pants, long sleeved shirts and women needed scarfs over their head if they went outside.  Actually the pants are coming back in style for the women but not quite as baggy. Men wore felt hats with a thread of fringe hanging down the side from the top (like the Mason’s hats).  Married men wore the fringe down the left side of the hat but when they saw a pretty woman they flipped the fringe to the right side of the hat to pretend they were single. (Ladies they never change).

Unfortunately we had to leave Mostar today and our beautiful hotel with singing birds in cages around the grounds, beautiful flowers and very friendly staff. This is definitely a place to return to. Off to Sarajevo!!

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