I’ve lived a very sheltered life. I’m so sheltered that even wars that have happened during my lifetime are just words on paper or images on screens that are about as real to me as a Bruce Willis action movie. Being in Mostar made me realize just how lucky I’ve been.
Based on our first post about Mostar, you probably have some idea of how recent their history of war violence is. Besides the sniper tower, you can see numerous other remnants of war just by strolling around the city. The most infamous one is probably the Stari Most. The Stari Most, Old Bridge in English, connects two parts of Mostar and is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country. For such a simple looking bridge, it’s strangely captivating and I just couldn’t seem to get enough pictures of it. Every time I walked near it I had to snap a picture. Weird.
The bridge that we see now is actually a reconstruction of the original that was built in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire. It lasted for 427 years through many wars, but was finally brought down on November 9, 1993 during the Croat-Bosniak War. After the war the Croats admitted to deliberately targeting and destroying the bridge although their reason for destroying it, strategic importance, is highly disputed by academics who argue that the destruction of the bridge was symbolic since it represented the shared cultural heritage between the people who have occupied the city for so many years. There’s a tiny museum in the old town area where you can learn more about the history of Mostar and the bridge if you’re interested. It’s free so you’ll probably go even if you’re not that interested. And, if you like to tempt death, there’s an annual diving competition in the summer where you can hurl your body from the bridge into the shallow, frigid waters of the Neretva River below. Don’t come crying to me if you die.
I was 14 when the Bosnian War ended in 1995. I remember hearing about it, but it was a world so far removed from my world that I didn’t bother to learn about it. Later, we all heard and read about the genocides, the mass rapes and the ethnic cleansing that went on as the rest of the world turned their heads. It’s one thing to read about it and another to be in the places where these atrocities happened.
We occasionally came across abandoned, bullet-ridden houses in Croatia, but seeing the remaining damage in Mostar was shocking. Rows and rows of pock-marked buildings stood next to brand new ones as silent but sobering reminders of the war. One especially notable place left over from the war is the “sniper tower”, a former bank building that was occupied by Serb and Croat forces.
As we made our way to the sniper tower in the afternoon (before the junkies go to the building in the evening to get high), we ran into a traveling American couple we met at the bus station on our way to Mostar the day before. THANK GOD. We wouldn’t have to explore the creepy abandoned building by ourselves!