The sound of cannon fire rips through the city. The chatter stops, and people sitting in cafés look at each other with worried expressions. Then, from the top of the minarets, Arabic singing fills the streets. It’s Ramadan in Mostar, and the daily fast has come to an end.

Buried in the mountains, the medieval city of Mostar is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s hidden gems. Built by the Ottomans in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, Mostar, with growing renown, has become a haven for travellers from across the world.

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Whilst its old Turkish houses and narrow cobbled streets draw admiring glances, it is the old bridge – Stari Most, which earned the city its label as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On any given day the bridge draws crowds, as eager eyed travellers gather to watch locals dive into the Neretva River.

As the crowds applaud the divers it is easy to forget the bridge’s turbulent history. In 1993, during the height of the Yugoslavian war, the bridge was shelled and later fell to the Croatian army. The ethnic conflict, following the dismantlement of Yugoslavia, left Bosnia and Herzegovina precariously in the middle of Serbian/Croatian armies. Bosnians were torn between choosing a side, and fighting for independence.

11845012_10153608490413586_1922544321067305258_oTwenty years on and it’s hard to find a street that does not bear signs of the ravages of war. In the old town stray bullet holes lurk, tucked away and out of sight. However, it is when straying to the outskirts that the true destruction war has left becomes evident.

Empty buildings litter the roadsides. Buildings bombed, shelled, and twisted with bullets scatter the town’s fringes. An abandoned sniper tower remains just fifteen minutes walk from Stari Most. Inside this tower lies shattered concrete, bullet shells, and empty beer cans. From the sniper bunker the city, in all its majesty, reveals its famous skyline. It is here that one realises both how beautiful and how cruel this world can be.

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Beyond wars and skylines, it is the people of Mostar that remain its finest attraction. Unlike tourist hotspots such as Paris and Rome, where visitors are sometimes treated with disdain, Mostar offers its affable charms. Here there are no Burger Kings or McDonalds. Nonetheless, Bosnian hospitality shines well above the customary norms of European cities.

This city, drenched in culture, history, and hospitality, is what makes Mostar one of the emerging tourist destinations of Europe. Although difficult to reach by plane or train – in fact, long mountainous coach journeys are inevitable – the journey is worth it as you see Balkan countryside unfold. Mostar, for now at least, remains one of the unspoiled gems of European travel.

Leigh Doughty

Featured image and embedded images courtesy of Leigh Doughty

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