An Ancient Pearl Waiting to be Rediscovered
(Part One of a two part series on our exploration of Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Twenty years ago this region was embroiled in a war for independence, and thus I never considered the other countries known as the Balkans as a realistic tourist destination based purely on this factor. We are currently living in Sibenik, Croatia and after I voiced my desire to visit the city of Medjugorje before we leave here, it was then that my husband told me that he really wanted to explore the city of Sarajevo. So I changed my thought process and we planned our trip into Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We began by visiting the city of Medjugorje for no other reason than the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin which have been taking place there for almost 30 years. What was once a sleepy and poor town is now filled with opulence which is evident in the large homes that dot the landscape and the upscale looking accommodations and restaurants that line the city streets. There wasn’t much evidence that a war had taken place in Medjugorje.
Our next destination was the city of Mostar which is a 45 minute ride north of Medjugorje. We opted to take a bus that night to Mostar and spend the first of three nights in that city. Mostar is the fifth largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Our hotel was centrally located on a cobblestone street in Old Town Mostar. Mostar is easy enough to explore on ones own and with city map in hand that is exactly what we did on our first day walking through the shops in the Old Bazaar, entering our first Mosque where we learned more about the Muslim faith; exploring fresh fruit markets and shopping centers and crossing lots of bridges.
Since we only had three nights in Mostar we opted to find a reliable tour guide for the following day so we could see those things that would require transportation, so at the recommendation of the hotel owner in Mostar we ventured to the office of Fortuna Tours. Here we booked our guide Selmir. Mike and I have always done a combination of sightseeing when we venture to a new country. We do a lot of touring on our own armed with guide books and city maps. Then we take escorted tours with a local. Selmir was born and raised in Mostar so his recollections and insight into his country and his people conveyed more to use than any guidebook ever would.
Selmir began our day by driving us to the small town of Blagaj where we saw the largest spring in all of Europe situated near an old monastery called Blagaj tekija. The monastery is 400 years old and the natural spring becomes the Buna River (Good River). Here Mike filled his water bottle with fresh spring water.
Our next stop was the to artists colony known as Pocitelj which was built in the 15th century. This town sits on the Neretva River which translates to Gift of God. Only about a 1/3 of the city can be seen from the one side of the mountain. Mike and Selmir did not let the cold and wet morning stop them from trekking to the top of the fortress and taking some wonderful pictures of the valley below, and of the other half of the city that waited to be explored.
Onward we went to the site called Mogorjelo, a Roman village that dates from the early fourth century. This village is the location where the olive oil was made and fruits and vegetables were grown for the Village of Narona in Croatia (see FB photo album on our trip to Narona). To be able to tie these two Roman villages together and these two countries was quite a thrill for me. Sadly, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina does not have the money to begin excavation so the secrets of Mogorjelo will stay secrets for many more years to come.
Selmir then took us to Kravice Falls on the River Trebzat. The height of the falls is 25 meters and the radius of the lake at the base is 120 meters. This is a very popular swimming and picnic area during the summer. It is unusual to take people here this time of year and the falls were majestic. This was really the best time of the year to come here since the waterfalls were bursting with water.
The last stop on this tour is normally to Medjugorje but since we had been there on our own Selmir said he would add in a stop that very few people enjoy. High atop one of the hills that was used during the war the Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina erected a crucifix that can be seen all over the city. The crucifix was erected in the year 2000 and stands 33 meters high. The hill it was placed on was used during the war to bomb the city. Upon arriving at the top of the mountain we were greeted by a rainbow that seemed to be protecting the city itself. The views of the city from this location were breathtaking. It was a fitting way to end our day and our time in this beautiful city.
Since many tour guides have done a fair amount of travel, and Selmir was no exception, we asked him if he planned to travel more outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina and he told us that he had learned that there was so much for him to see and discover about his own country that he didn’t see the need to travel outside of it until he had seen it all. Selmir is justifiably proud of his country and what it has to offer besides war torn buildings and monuments to its heroes. He told us that he has shown his friends the places he has visited right in their own country and they ask him where these beautiful places are and he tells them, this is an hour outside of town, and they do not believe him. Some people look for beauty so far outside of their own country that they do not see what is right in front of them. We are glad Selmir took the time to share his country with us and show us the Bosnia-Herzegovina he loves so well.
(For more on our time in Mostar click here)
Part Two Coming December 11, 2013 (Soul Searching in Sarajevo – the European Jerusalem)