“The bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. …I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky.” – Evliya Çelebi, 17th Century
“I was in my office, working to the sound of mortar fire, when we heard the cries in the street—cries that the bridge had fallen. And what happened then was so impressive that I will never forget it. Everyone came out to see. Grenades and bombs were falling everywhere, but still they came out of their hiding places: Young, and old, weak and strong, Muslim and Christian, they all came, all crying. Because that bridge, it was part of our identity. It represented us all.” A. Bubić, 1995
Although we were vaguely familiar with Sarajevo before we visited there, Mostar was a huge blank. Several people we had met along the way said we needed to go there. So we made plans to visit on our way through Bosnia to Dubrovnik.
Mostar was yet another urban battleground during the wars following the breakup of Yugoslavia. The pieces of its destroyed bridge were hauled out of the river and the span was made whole again in 2004. Mostar itself is still decidedly not whole, as the broken shells of buildings remain untouched and the impossibly blue Neretva River separates most of the minarets from the steeples. Maybe a future generation will make the symbolism behind the the bridge’s reconstruction a reality.
As visitors just passing through briefly, it’s easy to look at the reconstructed center of town, the amazing bridge with its daredevil high divers and the cobblestone streets and miss noticing the separation. We missed it. It wasn’t till we were double-checking place names and doing research to get our facts straight that we learned these things. How much more would we have noticed if we were looking for it?
One conundrum of travel is the question of whether or not to do a bunch of research in advance. If you don’t do any research, you might end up reaching ignorant, superficial conclusions… or if you’re lucky you’ll come away having your own fresh and unbiased perspective. Do you risk accidentally overlooking “important” things, or do you experience a place through a lens of what another traveler said you are supposed to see?