Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Our original plan was to drive from Dubrovnik to Split, but when we learned that we could take a one-hour detour on good roads to Mostar, a famous little town in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we decided to take a detour. As shown on the map below, Dubrovnik is actually separated from the rest of Croatia by a finger of Bosnia and Herzegovina that reaches out to the Adriatic and gives the country a seaport. We had to go through four customs stops to go through that finger: 1) out of Croatia, 2) into Bosnia, 3) out of Bosnia, and 4) back into Croatia.
Not too far northwest of there we went through two more border crossings to get into Bosnia: 1) out of Croatia and 2) into Bosnia. Crazy. As reported, the highway to Mostar was very nice, with a crumbling castle or two perched atop the hills along the way.
 Miraculously, we only made one wrong turn (due to roadwork), and we quickly got back on track.

The drive was much easier than our previous Bosnia experience driving to Sarajevo. I can see now why most tour companies go to Sarajevo via Mostar. However, while the road was much better and much more direct, it wasn't nearly as exciting as our drive into Sarajevo from the north. 

The signs of war are everywhere in Mostar and were our first dominant impression of the city. An eighteen-month-long siege of Mostar began when Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. In the twenty years since the war, much of the city has recovered, but the bombed-out buildings and walls punctuated with hundreds of bullet holes remain as a reminder of much, much harder days.

A lively (and very kitschy) shopping street is almost a shock in contrast:

There is evidence of a lot of Western influence:

Graffiti is especially fun in a foreign language when you can't read the swear words:

Similar to Sarajevo, there is evidence of religious tolerance in Mostar. At first I thought the spire on the left was a minaret, but note the cross at the top.  The sign on the locked church identifies it as the Church of St. Peter and Paul.

(Side note: Just sixteen miles away from Mostar is the very popular Catholic pilgrimage site of Medjugorje, where six children supposedly saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1981. We had considered going there, but after reading about the heavy tourism focus, we decided to spend our limited time in other places.)

This empty plot of land appears to belong to the Jewish community, which is small but does exist:

While the Catholics and Jews have their place, Mostar is dominated by Muslims and mosques, and Islam is clearly the principal religion.

We visited two of Mostar's mosques. The first was the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, built in 1617 (yes, three years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock).
My favorite part of the mosque is the exterior, including this dainty fountain for ablutions:

. . . and the carpeted "front porch." The design over the window is especially beautiful. I love the colors and pattern, which for some reason remind me of Italy:

The mosque is small and relatively simple inside, and I was not required to take off my shoes or cover my head:

I really like how instead of having one continuous carpet, the floor is covered with many rugs of varying sizes, patterns, and materials. That beautiful yellow arch we saw over the window outside is repeated again inside.
The mihrab and minbar use the same bright, cheery colors. In fact, this is a downright happy mosque:

The customary women's balcony is to the right of the main entrance, just past this very unique plastic red fez used to collect donations:

The second mosque we visited was the Karadyoz-bey Mosque.
Built in 1557, it is Mostar's largest mosque, but it feels quite small inside. Although badly damaged in the siege of the city in 1992-1993, it has been beautifully restored.

"Loaner scarves" are available for the women tourists:
The mosque has a 16th century Quran on display. Pretty spectacular.
The intricate design in one of the domes reminds me a lot of the patterns I used to make as a child on my Spirograph:
The three-loop "W" figure below is the symbol for "Allah":

We once had a bedspread and curtains that I swear was this very pattern:
I would have liked to see the mosque in its original glory. Much of the artwork on the walls was whitewashed at some point, but a few squares here and there have been strategically removed to show visitors what lies beneath. The original mosque must have had an entirely different look.

Again, a patchwork of beautiful rugs covers the floor:
According to Google Translate, sabah namaz means "morning prayer." I'm not sure what that has to do with the clock, but I think this is the first time I've seen a clock in a mosque:

This cobblestone artwork decorates the mosque yard:

and a cemetery is just beyond, much like the cemetery around a Christian church. 

All of these sites are interesting, but the reason we decided to make the detour to Mostar was to see its famous bridge, and it is the bridge that dominates the both the view and the city's history. It's coming up in my next post.


  1. I hadn't realized that Bosnia had a seaport until we had to go through it. Nice for Bosnia, but tough when you have to go through all of the checking stations to travel through. Per usual, your eyes were better at catching bullet holes than mine were.

  2. Beautiful mosque! Why in the world would someone whitewash the walls? It's interesting to see all of the rugs on the floor. Makes you wonder what is hidden underneath. I love the colors of the walls and ceiling decor inside the mosque.

  3. I just read the chapter in Pillars of Hercules, Paul Theroux's book about travel around the Meditteranean, and it recounts his conversation with a UN officer who recounted that the bridge had been blow up "just last week." Yep, this book is 20 years old, and I kept thinking about all your bullet holes and bomb craters throughouth your blog as I read the Theroux. Makes a reader want to stay far away, but in twenty years, it appears much has changed. I look forward to seeing Mostar.