Day 33: Around Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina

by - September 06, 2011

As fascinating as Mostar is, we were keen to explore the surrounding countryside a bit as the city is perfectly located for day trips. Miran, our hostel owner, actually ran his own trip for the relatively cheap sum of €25. We left at 10 and headed south out of the town. While we were still in the town we were able to have a small guided tour from miran who gave us a very personal insight into the war damage - showing us where they divided HIS city, where they destroyed OUR bridge and most poignant of all where they killed his uncle. He took us past where the croatian tank which blew up the bridge had stood and that they tried to stop it but had only been equipped with rifles. 

The hillside at Počitelj
Our first stop (after getting some burek for breakfast - which is like a turkish pasty) was the town of Počitelj which was a strategic hungarian garrison before the ottomans captured it in 1471 and expanded the castle to its current size. It became a famous artist colony but was pretty much flattened in the 1990’s. Much has now been repaired and the terraced houses leading up to the imposing fortress were a great place to stop for a photo. We climbed up to the citadel (which was quite a scramble) for excellent views down the Neretva valley. We looked inside the grand Hadzi Alijna mosque which had been half destroyed and while it had now been repaired it was very obvious what was old and what was new as the new section had not been decorated. Aside from the fact that it was so scenic, there wasn’t much else to keep us in Pocitelj and Lonely Planet says there isn’t even any accommodation available there. 

Počitelj and the Neretva Valley
Kravice Waterfalls
Next on the tour were the Kravice waterfalls, an arc of falls that seem to come straight out of the dense forest above them. The falls (some of which are as high as 25m) were extremely impressive and we spent 3 hours swimming and jumping in their pools. As an interesting side note, Hercegovina is famous for its snakes and as we were climbing out of the water we saw a little one that must have been about a foot long. After my Singapore experience I think I coped admirably in the face of such terror. By now we had sunbathed our way through the hottest part of the day and made our way to the town of Međugorje, a place which is a major talking point and which Miran was keen to give us his opinion on.

The statue of the Virgin Mary
Before 1981, Međugorje had been a poor village in the mountains of Hercegovina.  On the 24th June however, six local teenagers were walking in the hills when they claim to have been spoken to by the Virgin Mary, preaching a message that all religions are accepted.  The Catholic church has refused to accept the visions as real, but the village has now turned into a thriving tourist town, full of pilgrims from all over the world.  Miran, who despite being a Muslim says that his religion is nothing to do with his skepticism, points to the fact that the six teenagers are now some of the most wealthy people in former Yugoslavia and that their formerly poor town is now thriving.  A big cathedral has been set up on the site along with a statue at the point where the apparition supposedly happened.  When we arrived in the late afternoon the town was heaving with pilgrims, mostly from Italy.  Walking around the grounds of the cathedral, we came across what looked like a massive row of toilets but which actually turned out to be confession booths in pretty much every European language you can imagine - I have never come across something like this I don’t think, even at the Vatican.  Around the back of the church is an arena where mass can be taken on a grand scale, with a capacity of what must be thousands.  Sitting outside the church doing some people watching, it was clear that this place means a lot to locals as there was a lot of hugging and crying going on, which was quite touching.

Confession booths in Međugorje
The cliffs above Blagaj
There was one last location left before we headed back to Mostar and this was the local village of Blagaj (the ‘aj’ combination in Bosnian creates a sound like the 'ie’ in pie).  The village is situated at the bottom of some extremely steep cliffs and is based around the source of the Buna river, which comes out of a cave at the bottom.  The water leaves the cave at a temperature of 8 degrees and is one of the purest rivers in Europe, with the spring itself one of the largest in Europe.  Despite annual attempts by French divers to find it (attempts which cost one diver his life this year), the source of the spring has never been discovered.  Next to the spring is a house which used to be a dervish monastery.  Part of the complex was destroyed in the war, but has been rebuilt with money from the Turkish government.  It is a very picturesque spot and was a good place to end what had been an excellent tour from Miran.  On the way back we passed a castle, way up on the cliffs which used to be the residence of the king of Hercegovina.  Miran explained to us that the whole country was called Bosnia, until a noble moved to this castle and wanted to create an area famous for wine production.  Herceg is the Bosnian word for 'King’ and 'vina’ means wine, so the area that this noble bought was literally named 'King of Wine’.  The area is still famous for its wine in the Balkans, but now has to compete with other upcoming areas such as eastern Macedonia and the slopes of Montenegro.  That night after dinner, Miran sat down with me while I was writing the blog and showed me some videos of Mostar from the war.  We got talking about life under Tito and he gave a pretty interesting account of his opinion that life was better under him than it is now, and that the job security and free healthcare and education associated with the communist regime was worth the lack of political freedom.

The dervish house, Blagaj

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