September 12, 2008

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina











There are many wonderful things to say about Mostar, Bosnia, but the first is – if you go, you must stay at Majdas Rooms; a hostel which an entrepreneurial family team of Mother, Daughter and Brother created from their former apartment unit which is the perfect welcoming for the intrepid traveler who wants to explore this visually and historically rich country. In the morning, Mama will make you a cup of coffee and greet you with the warmest only-a-mama-can-have-this smile while Majda sits busily at the computer managing the reservations and connecting you with people she knows in other cities and then crazy-in-a-good-way Bata arrives to scoop you up in the orange hippie van and take you out for a twelve hour, completely affordable, marathon-style daytrip which covers everything from the old history to the recent history of this small city spread out on the banks of the beautiful and cool emerald colored Neretva River.
Unlike Sarajevo or Srebrenica, Mostar is not a city which immediately calculates in the minds of the average individual who followed the events of the Bosnian War, but played a tragic, geographically located role in which it’s close proximity to Croatia made it a hotly conflicted war zone which was almost entirely leveled by bombs. The most notorious being the Stari Most bridge built in the 16th century by the Ottoman Empire, whose beauty was written in the history books and whose destruction by Croat forces became a symbol of the hopelessness of yet another senseless war. Sitting alone in the “theater” of the house-turned-history-museum, I watched a video of the bombing of this bridge, blurrily from behind my tears and as the images of fire and smoke clouded my vision, it was not the malicious disregard for culture and history which choked me up but it was what came next; the image of a diver, soon after the Dayton Peace Accord was signed, starting to fish the remains of this icon, stone by stone, from the bottom of the river symbolizing the incredible resilience of the Bosnian Muslims to start rebuilding their city and their lives.
It is easy to stay focused on the war when visiting Mostar because the reminders are all around; bombed out and bullet ridden buildings, divided Croat and Bosnian sections of town, and most heart-breaking, cemeteries in which all the gravestones mark the passing of young men in either 1993 or 1994, many having only been born between 1965 and 1975. That is why Bata’s day tour is an important one to go on because he not only gives you the recent history, but he shows you the pre-war Mostar, the other Mostar that has always been there; the one that is lush with green hills and fertile farmland and waterfalls spilling into lakes tucked away in the woods, the one that has centuries old trading towns and Islamic monasteries, the one with magical rivers and peaceful religions.
On my way out of town, walking to the bus station, I saw a battered cement sculpture fountain surrounded by what was probably at one time a well maintained little city park, but today just bears the scars of war. And it is from this fountain which water still flows, trickling down into it’s base, reminding me that not even a torn surface can disguise the strength and pride that flows from within.

1 comment:

tg said...

That photo of the cross, like so many others and examples of statues of Jesus (Rio), etc. just prove how deep religion truly runs in the hearts of people now and from ages past. Maybe being a NY-er has jaded my thinking, but religious life has not permeated in quite that way so it amazes me to see examples from around the world that have. Back in the day it exemplified all that could not be explained, now we have science which is a different ball game unto itself. Interesting to see that the effect of efforts of missionaries (even the crusades!) from so long ago still live on around the world. Thanks for the blog, fun to keep up with!

 

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