Stari Most – Mostar’s Old Bridge

Stari Most from below

“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

No photos

“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

Walking over


Dog chasing rocks

Dive practice

Cat begging at a restaurant

Bridge at dusk

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.

Bombed-out Razvitak department store

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?

Stari Most from the banks

Oct 2012



What Happened in Sarajevo

Our families usually had the national news on tv while we ate supper, so we had vague memories of the Bosnian war and of Sarajevo. Explosions, buildings on fire, wounded people being carried through the streets. But we were in middle school and high school when it all started, and the evidence of war that still remained on the drive between the airport and the city center reminded us of how much we didn’t know.

IMG_4603 Sarajevo Bosnia war images
Image courtesy of Ulicar

So if you’re like us and need some background information, here is a crash course in what happened in Sarajevo two decades ago.

Yugoslavia was a country that unified six ethnic republics in the Balkan region. Following the death of leader Marshal Tito in 1980, many of the republics tried to become more autonomous, but Serbia, which had held most of the political power, wanted stronger federal control. The situation deteriorated and Yugoslavia began to break apart.

In 1992, Bosnia declared independence. The Yugoslav federal army exited Bosnia, but left its arms with the Serbs, who used them to attack Bosnian cities. The Serbs entrenched themselves in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo, which gave them the perfect vantage point to bombard the city with heavy artillery and sniper rifles for nearly four years. Over 10,000 adults and 1,500 children were killed, an additional 56,000 Sarajevans were wounded.

In Bosnia, and over the entire breakup of Yugoslavia during the 90′s, hundreds of thousands of people were killed in acts of war and genocide, and millions of ethnic minorities across the six republics were displaced.

(**That’s a hugely oversimplified version of a complex period of history on which we have no expertise other than Googling skills, so please don’t quote us.**)

IMG_4604 Sarajevo Bosnia war images
Image courtesy of Ulicar

Even though the war ended nearly 17 years ago, you can see it everywhere.

In the city parks that were turned into cemeteries, with most of the inscriptions bearing years 1992… 1993… 1994… 1995…


Martyrs' Cemetery

In buildings never rebuilt.

building next to cathedral

abandoned houses

In the Sarajevo Roses – shell craters filled in with red resin where people were killed – now fading and chipped all over the city.

Sarajevo Rose - Cathedral

Sarajevo rose - street

In the damaged World War II memorial.

WWII Memorial

In the evidence of reduced population and industry and an economy that never fully recovered.

closed store

abandoned building

In the official memorial for the children who were killed.

Childrens' memorial

In the National Library, whose 1.5 million volumes were incinerated.

National Library

In the bullet holes that speckle so many buildings, even underneath bright graffiti.

bullet holes

bullet holes - neighborhood


One thing that particularly made an impression on us was when we visited the Tunnel Musuem. During the seige, the only way to get food and supplies in and out of the city was the UN-controlled airport. But to get between the airport and the city was practically a suicide mission due to sniper and rocket fire. A tunnel over half a mile long was dug from a civilian home, underneath a field and the runway, and 20 million tons of food passed through to keep the city fed.

Kolar house

Tunnel Museum sign




newspaper article

Jasmina, the woman owns the hostel we stayed in, was a student at the University of Sarajevo before the war broke out and was trapped in the city. Her family lived in Dubrovnik, which was also heavily attacked, and neither she nor her family had any way of contacting each other. Food was scarce and no one knew what the next day would bring, or if they would live to see it. By the time the war ended and she was able to return to Dubrovnik, her parents were no longer living.


soldier photo

After all that, you might think that our visit to Sarajevo was extremely depressing. But it wasn’t. We’ll post more later.


Oct 2012