Location: South Bosnia, 2 hours southwest of Sarajevo, 2.5 hours northwest of Dubrovnik and 1.5 hours from the Adriatic Sea (which is on the east side of Italy).
Language: There are three official languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, although they are all similar to each other. English is understood and spoken in the tourist areas.
Money: Bosnian Convertible Mark (BAM for short, with the money symbol being KM)
Transportation: Due to its small size, walking is your main option, with trains and buses leaving the city, but not running through it.
Religion: Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim (not the extreme branch of Muslim seen in the Middle East though).
Birthday/Independance Day: March 1, 1995 (why that’s so recent, is explained below)
Safety: Mostar is safe to walk around, but this is one place where your main concern will not be from people, but unexploded mines from the war in the ‘90’s. But you won’t encounter any of these just walking around the main streets and main paths. But if you walk into abandoned buildings or outside of heavily-walked paths, there’s still a risk of finding an unpleasant surprise.
Fun Facts: Mostar is the 5th largest city in Bosnia. The Old Bridge and Old Town are a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The name of Mostar comes from it’s bridge, called Stari Most. When you reverse and mash the names together, voila, you have a town name. The river that runs through Mostar, called Neretva River, has Croats living on one side and Bosniaks on the other (this will be explained later). Bosnia has the 10th highest coffee consumption per capita in the world (Canada is 18th and the U.S. is 21st).
History: Although officially founded in 1452, evidence of civilization there goes back to prehistoric times. Due to its location between mineral-rich regions of Bosnia, and the Adriatic Sea, Mostar quickly became an important location for trade. In 1468, the whole region came under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. It was during this time that the Old Bridge was ordered to be built, and afterwards, it was a source of pride, not just in Mostar, but as a symbol of high-quality Ottoman architecture. All of Bosnia would remain under the Ottoman rule for 410 years, before the Austro-Hungarian Empire took over the area in 1878. They ruled there until after World War I in 1918, when it became a kingdom, combining all of the south Slavic people. The name was officially changed in 1929 to Yugoslavia, which means South Slav Land in their local language. This combined the countries of modern day Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo. Despite it changing from a kingdom to a communist country, then to a socialist country after World War II, Yugoslavia remained as one country until the early 1990’s. After the fall of communism, the 7 now-independent countries wanted to be on their own, which caused a fierce war in the region for 10 years, mainly due to ethnic identity. Although there really hadn’t been problems during the Ottomon, Austro-Hungarian and Yugoslavian years, when you want to declare independence, which ethnic group gets the privilege of representing the whole country? What had been one family of people, were now divided based on religious preference (Croatians are Catholic called Bosnian-Croats, Bosnians are Muslim called Bosniaks and Serbians are Orthodox called Bosnian-Serbs). Bosnia unfortunately saw the most of the destruction, both within its people and buildings, as all 3 groups were more represented here than in other countries in Yugoslavia. The Bosnian War has been the worst European massacre and genocide (the genocide was only for the Bosniaks, not the Croatians or Serbians) since World War II. Even though things are relatively calm between the groups in Bosnia now, the wounds will still take time to heal, as most people involved or affected by the war, are still alive.
Arriving In Mostar
From the airport to the city center: While there is an airport in Mostar, it only has direct flights to 5 destinations in 3 countries (Düsseldorf, Germany; Stuttgart, Germany; Rome, Italy; Zagreb, Croatia, and Sarajevo, Bosnia). There isn’t really an organized bus system to get from the airport to the city center (which is 4.6 miles/7.5 km), so this is one time that it’s recommended to get a taxi or rent your own car. If renting a taxi though, make sure and agree on a price before entering the car (generally around 10-15KM or $5-$8). Most taxi drivers accept Euros, but this is one country, where you’ll want to change to the local currency as soon as possible.
TIP: If flying is your preferred way of traveling, it’s easier to fly into Sarajevo, then take a bus or a train to Mostar, which will take 2.5 hours.
Getting Around: As mentioned before, because Mostar is so small, you’ll just be walking anywhere you go. In the Old Town area, it is cobblestoned, so make sure and wear good shoes.
About Mostar/Things To Do
Don’t Judge A Book by its Cover: One of the biggest things to know about Bosnia in general, is that just because they have the title of Muslim as one of the main religions, it doesn’t mean they are anything like the fanatics in the Middle East. There has been more of a sense of ethnic pride since the war, but that hasn’t translated to bombings and to us-and-them mentalities. A lot of them are just born into that title, without always having a strong connection to it. All of the Bosnians I’ve met are hospitable and helpful, even if there is a language barrier.
The Staple of the City: Taking 9 years to build in 1557, the bridge (Old Bridge/Stari Most) became a source of pride to the town. At the time of its completion, it was the widest man-made arch in the world (13 ft/4 meters). During the Bosnian war, it was demolished on November 9, 1993, making it difficult for troops to get from one side of the river to the other. After the war, several countries and organizations funded the rebuild, using as much of the original bridge as possible. For 450 years, people have been diving from the high bridge (69 ft/21 meters) into the icy water below during the summer months. In addition, since 2015, the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series comes to Mostar as one of their stops. They add a platform on top of the bridge, which adds even more height and difficulty to the competition. So if you’re in Mostar between mid-August and late-September (the date changes each year), make sure and watch this incredible event.
A Dash of the Old, Surrounded By The New: One of the things you’re likely to see just outside of the Old Town is a city still struggling to rebuild from the war. While money and tourism has poured into Croatia since the war, sadly very little of that has come to Bosnia. Because of that, sometimes families or businesses only had enough money to rebuild part of a building. So walking around Mostar can be a little bit of a time-machine to the past, in a way that it’s rare to see in anywhere else in Europe.
Best View in Mostar: Built in 1617, Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is another architectural example of the Ottoman empire. Sitting right above the Nertva river, it has a great view of the surrounding area. While you can enter the mosque and take pictures of it for free, if you’d like to pay the entrance fee, you can climb the small, windy 89-steps to the top for a spectacular view of the river, the Stari Most bridge and if you time it right, you can even watch a diver dive off the bridge into the river below.
A Lesson to Us All: In a few places in Mostar, there are carved rocks with words like “Don’t Forget” referring to the war. For some people, that may sound like it’s keeping those memories alive, when people should be trying to move on and put it all in the past. But for others, it’s a reminder of George Santayana’s words “Those who do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Some Different Souvenirs: When visiting the Old Town, you’ll quickly see the main shopping street, but it’ll be different than the shopping you’re thinking of with shopping malls and high-priced goods. The Old Bazar Kujundziluk is a step right out of the Ottoman history books, which was mostly undamaged during the war. Here you can find all sorts of things from copper objects, Bosnian coffee sets, handmade shoes, wooden boxes, books, photographs, jewelry, etc., and the prices are extremely reasonable. Also near the Bazaar are restaurants, cafes and other places to rest your feet or to enjoy people watching.
A School Opened to All Local Religions: Opened in 1893, Gimnazija Mostar is a gymnasium school (a system similar to the American and Canadian middle and high school) allowed students of any local religion to come, so they had Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic and even Jews all under one roof. It worked well until the Bosnian War happened, and then a lot of the building was destroyed. After the war, the school took 5 years to renovate, opening again in 2009. It is now mainly a school for Bosnian-Croats and Bosniaks, and while the local politicians continually try to segregate the students, the students welcome the desegregation and enjoy having the mixed classes. It is the only school of this type in Mostar.