Things to Do in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Curiously innocuous considering its momentous role in 20th-century history, the Latin Bridge spans the River Miljacka between Obala Culina Bana and Obala Isa-Bega Ishakovića in Sarajevo. Built in Ottoman times, its four stone arches date back to at least 1565 – although a wooden one may have preceded it – making it one of the oldest bridges in the city.
By the advent of the 20th century, Turkish rule in Bosnia had long been superseded by the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and unrest was brewing across Europe. On June 28, 1914, Serbian mercenary Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie while they were on a state visit to Sarajevo, choosing the northern corner of the Latin Bridge to commit his crime and sparking the political events that lead directly to the outbreak of World War I. Today a plaque marks the spot, and there are portraits of Princip and Franz Ferdinand on the exterior of the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918.
Lying north of the River Miljacka and forming the original heart of Sarajevo’s Old Town (Stari Grad), Bascarsija is a vibrant, bustling Oriental bazaar where several mosques and hammams (baths) date back to 1462, when the country was under the Ottoman rule. Starting life as a caravanserai, with accommodation for travelers and stabling for horses, its foundations were laid by Isa-Beg Ishaković, who was the first Ottoman governor of Bosnia. Over time, Bascarsija grew into a labyrinthine district of cobbled alleyways and shaded lanes, and by the 17th century it was a thriving trading hub with thousands of workshops practicing scores of crafts from coppersmiths to potters and jewelers, all existing amid the mosques and minarets.
The Kravice Falls are Bosnia and Herzegovina’s best-kept natural secret, a spectacular semi-circular cascade that plummets over 30-meter (98-foot) soft tufa cliffs on the Trebižat River southwest of Mostar. Lying in a river valley lush with fig and poplar trees, the falls have sliced out a natural amphitheater spanning 120 meters (394 feet) as the river splits into a dozen or more separate waterfalls and hurls itself between massive boulders into the lake below. The falls are at their most powerful during the spring snow melt and are tamer in summer, when several pocket-sized sandy beaches appear underneath the cascades from which to swim in the icy, emerald waters. A well-beaten track leads downhill from the car park and a boardwalk leads to the foot of the falls, where rope swings are poised over the river; there are several fish restaurants with colorful umbrellas on terraces bordering the river as well as picnic areas and camping facilities.
Bascarsija is the medieval Oriental bazaar lying at the heart of Sarajevo’s Stari Grad (Old Town), where mosques and hammams (baths) date right back to 1462. The most important and grandest of Bascarsija’s mosques is Gazi Husrev-beg, named after a Turkish governor of Bosnia and built in 1530 in Ottoman style by the Persian architect Adžem Esir Ali. Originally a complex of prayer halls, madrasa (Koranic school), medieval soup kitchen for the Muslim poor, wash room and library, the mosque was badly damaged during the Balkan wars of the 1990s but has been extensively reconstructed; today its distinctive dome once more forms the heart of Bascarsija and its spiky minaret is a landmark visible all over Sarajevo.
Constructed in 1566 during the Ottoman occupation on the sight of an earlier wooden bridge, the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in multi-cultural Mostar straddles the Neretva River; it was designed in a single stone span by Turkish architect Kodja Mimar Sinan and built by Mimar Hayruddin, who was threatened with execution by the Sultan if the bridge should collapse. Thankfully it stood the test of time until its destruction by shells during the Balkan Wars, but now once again soars over the river, 30 meters (98.5 feet) in length and standing 21 meters (69 feet) at its highest point. Today the Old Bridge is world famous for several reasons: it unites the city’s Muslim and Christian residents between the Ottoman left bank and the largely 19th-century Austro-Hungarian enclave on the right bank; it was blown apart in 1993 when the two communities of Mostar turned on each other; and yet has come to symbolize peace and reconciliation since its restoration.
Just a few steps away from Mostar’s landmark Stari Most, the historic bridge that was destroyed in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, lies the Stari Grad, the oldest part of town. The historic and commercial heart of this district is the Kujundziluk (Old Bazaar) overlooking the left bank of the River Neretva, which in Ottoman times was where all the trading and bartering took place. In the 16th century, Turks and Bosnians alike congregated here daily to do business; today the Kujundziluk is just as crowded with international visitors keen to seek out traditional crafts and street snacks from the tiny stalls and artisan shops of this cobbled warren of alleyways backed by pink-painted houses. Colorful geometric-patterned rugs, intricate handmade jewelry and gaudy beads, embroidered scarves, bags and shisha pipes are some of the treasures to be unearthed here; be prepared to bargain for discounts off the initial prices.
A ‘tekija’ is a Muslim Dervish monastery and the one found near the rural settlement of Blagaj near Mostar has probably the most spectacular location of any religious building in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Built between 1446 and 1520 while the country was under Ottoman rule, Blagaj Tekija is tucked in under a sheer, 200-m (656-ft) limestone cliff face overlooking the emerald-green source of the River Buna. It was constructed for a sect of soldier-monks somewhat akin to the Christian Knights Templar called the ‘bektašije’, and is a striking mixture of Bosnian and Oriental architecture, a whitewashed, half-timbered four-story structure leaning over the water’s edge. Today monks from the Naqshbandi order inhabit the monastery and Dervish ceremonies still take place there; the remains of two 15th-century Dervishes are interred under ornately carved wooden roofs and are the subject of Muslim pilgrimages.
More Things to Do in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Running 225 km (140.5 miles) from Lebrsnik in the Dinaric Alps to Ploce on the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, the Neretva is Bosnia’s longest river. The waterway is fed by five tributary rivers, including the Buna (overlooked at its source by the Blagaj Tekija monastery) and Trebižat (home of the awesome mini-Niagara at Kravice Falls), before flowing through Lake Jablanicko and turning southwest toward Mostar. The icy upper reaches of the emerald-green river near Glavaticevo flow through dramatic canyons and limestone gorges, but lower down the current is managed by four large hydroelectric dams. On its way into Croatia, the Neretva flows underneath the historic Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, which has come to symbolize reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim communities since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. From there it meanders past the historic town of Pocitelj, which sits high above the river amid the ruins of a medieval fortress and the Ottoman Hajji Alija mosque.
Located southwest of Mostar close to the Croatian border, Apparition Hill is a popular Catholic pilgrimage site and the famous home to sightings of apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Officially called Podbrdo Hill, it now draws more than a million visitors each year, making it the third most popular apparition site in Europe. The Statue of Our Lady was built on top of the hill to mark the 20th anniversary of the first apparitions, which occurred in 1981. There are also 15 bronze reliefs representing the rosary that line the rocky path leading up the hill. In addition to its religious importance, the hill offers panoramic views around the valley below.
Apparition Hill is often visited on a day tour of Medjugorje from Dubrovnik or Split in Croatia. Choose a tour that includes time for a mass at St. James Church or a visit to the Kravice Waterfalls for a more tailored experience.
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