Crabs, bats and communists, in Cuba's greatest Soviet souvenir.
There were two targets on my list when I arrived in Mostar: the Old Bridge, an iconic piece of Ottoman architecture, and a more contemporary abandoned building. The latter used to be a bank, once, but during the Bosnian War it was repurposed as a sniper tower. From here an assassin had fired into the city, shooting at anyone in sight. It was part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing, intended to terrify (presumed-)Muslim Bosniaks into packing up and leaving their homes. Now the building’s a wreck – untouched since the war and left to stand like some grim memorial above Mostar.
A few of us headed up there the night that we arrived, all the way to the rooftop. It brought a strange mess of emotions: I’d think to myself how good the view was, then realise that the same thoughts – for different reasons – had gone through the minds of those killers, too. Looking down on parks, gardens, streets and domestic balconies, it was awful to imagine what happened here little more than 20 years ago. That evening was a strange, difficult, and beautiful experience.
The next day we explored the city some more.
When I said the Old Bridge was an iconic piece of Ottoman architecture, I should have said it was a replica of an iconic piece of Ottoman architecture. The original was built in the 16th century, and in time its classic humpbacked shape came to stand as a symbol of this city. That one was destroyed in the Bosnian War, though – blown up by Croat forces in 1993. What stands now is a replacement, a slavishly accurate reconstruction opened in 2004.
The bridge stands at the touristy end of town, emerging from the bank just after a series of cobbled streets filled with market stalls and restaurants. At its highest point, Bosnian men were pulling their shirts off to jump into the river below. It’s a local tradition, apparently, though I didn’t stay to watch. The number of pedestrians trying to cross made it an uncomfortable place to linger; GoPros and selfie sticks, socks with sandals, novelty t-shirts and even a television news crew, trying to film a segment amongst the churning mass of foreign bodies. I couldn’t handle the place for long.
But good for them. Good for Mostar. After all the city’s been through, I’m delighted that these days they’re such a hit with the tourists. The place felt positive, vibrant, and optimistic… even despite the bullet holes that decorated countless houses.