In the grand scheme of European tourism, Mostar is largely considered as just a day-trip destination from neighbouring Croatia and Montenegro or a quick stop-off when travelling to Sarajevo. While this has indeed positioned it as one of the most-visited cities in BiH, it is safe to say most tourists hardly scratch the surface of Herzegovina’s enchanting capital city. Those that give it more time, or at least an overnight, will be rewarded with the magic of the town mostly to themselves and the opportunity for countless other cultural and adventure-filled excursions around its immediate vicinity.
What to see and do in Mostar
No matter how many times one does it, crossing the Stari most (Old Bridge) always seems to be an exciting experience. This single-arch stone bridge is an exact replica of the original that stood for over 400 years, and that was designed by Hajrudin, a student of the great Turkish architect Sinan. The Halebija and Tara towers have always housed the guardians of the bridge and during Ottoman times were storehouses for ammunition. Year round, though especially during spring and summer, you can catch some of the daredevils from the Bridge Divers’ Club jumping off the bridge from a height of 23m straight into the Neretva.
Don’t miss the Stari most Museum, which is housed in the Tara Tower. Upstairs are a few exhibitions with excellent views of the bridge on top. The stairs down to the right lead to the underbelly of the Old Bridge and provide a fascinating peek at how the old structure was built. At the end of a labyrinth is a small viewing room with a UNESCO film by Bosnian film-maker Jasmila Žbanić about the reconstruction of the Old Bridge.
Koski Mehmed-Pasha Mosque
Mostar is unique in that it has opened many of its most precious and historical mosques to be visited and viewed by tourists. This one was built in 1617 and although heavily damaged during the last war, it has been fully restored. Visitors are permitted to enter the mosque, and even climb the minaret for a phenomenal view of the Stari most.
You must take your shoes off before entering a mosque. As this mosque is open for visitors, it is not required that women wear a headscarf. On the same premises you will find a madrasa, which was built in the 17th century. It is recommended to visit in the morning in order to avoid the crowds.
Arguably the finest example of Ottoman architecture in BiH, the Muslibegović House is one of Mostar’s premiere attractions. The house itself is an exquisite model of 17th-century Ottoman architecture. The original house was built in the 16th century but it was later expanded and upgraded.
The owners have adopted the Spanish model of national monument homes and opened the house as a boutique bed and breakfast. The museum visit is a 20-minute tour of the middle part of the house (the other parts house the guests) with interesting historical facts and anecdotes. The true experience, however, is to spend the night and live like a beg for an evening.
Built on a side street that leads down to the Neretva River, this 17th-century Turkish house, partially supported by 5m-long pillars, is one of three well-preserved Ottoman homes to visit in Mostar. The home is still owned by the Bišćević family, who proudly give guided tours. The main attraction is the large gathering room, or divanhan, which was designated for men to talk business. It is preserved in original Turkish style.
A bit off the central circuit of the old town this is the best-preserved Turkish-style house in Herzegovina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and now protected by law as the finest example of an Ottoman home. Fortuna Tours near the Old Bridge can arrange a tour guide, or you can wander up to the house yourself. The host does not speak English, but she will gladly walk you through the old-style kitchen with all of its original and functional furniture and equipment. The garden terrace, shadowed by Hum Mountain to the west, has plenty of seats to sit back and enjoy the hostess’s homemade juice from roses – it is absolutely amazing and nearly impossible to find anywhere else. The upstairs floor is laid out in typical Turkish fashion.
There are separate sleeping rooms for the women, all with bathing areas within the room. The women also had a large sitting room where they would receive guests and entertain. The men were situated on the southern side of the house, but the man of the house had free range to visit his many wives. The wooden wardrobes and large chests are carved with intricate oriental designs. In the open foyer upstairs, you can try on a set of traditional attire (men’s and women’s) – a great photo opportunity. The fact that the house is still lived in adds to its charm.
This is the most important and significant of all sacred Islamic architecture in Herzegovina. The mosque was heavily damaged during the war and its minaret completely destroyed by tank and artillery rounds from the Croatian forces. The mosque was completed in 1557. Its designer was Kodža Mimara Sinan, a great Turkish architect, and the work was probably carried out by local and Dalmatian stonemasons.
The interior is marked with typical Ottoman characteristics but has lost much of its detailed paintings from water damage after its destruction. It opened to visitors again a few years ago after being under construction for a long time and visitors are now allowed to climb to the top of the minaret.
Getting to Mostar
If travelling to Mostar from abroad, it is far easier to find flights into Split or Dubrovnik in neighbouring Croatia, or to fly into Sarajevo, than it is to find flights to Mostar itself. Sarajevo International Airport is located just over 2 hours by car from Mostar. Hiring a car at Sarajevo airport is an option, though it’s wise to make a reservation in advance. It is also possible to take a taxi from Sarajevo airport to the central bus station in Sarajevo, and travel by bus from there. The bus ride takes 2–3 hours.
Herzegovina is easily navigable by car. Though there are currently no major highways to speak of, the roads are decent if a bit winding. Several years ago, a 10km stretch of highway was built, connecting the shrine town of Međugorje with the Croatian highway. A highway from Sarajevo to the Croatian coast via Herzegovina has been under construction for years, but as with most infrastructure projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is making very slow progress. To date, only 23km have been completed and the remainder will not be finished anytime in the near future.
Like in most of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the bus system here is fairly well organised and, at the very least, consistent. Travelling by bus can be a cheap, fun way to see the region, but be sure to ask about the bus before buying your ticket. Some bus companies have modern vehicles with air conditioning, while others still drive relics from the Yugoslav era. In these buses the windows don’t open, there is no air conditioning and the driver usually smokes.