Bosnia is full of surprises, from the wide array of flowers in many of Sarajevo’s yards to WWII significance in a torn down bridge. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me has been the abundance of diverse learning opportunities and rich history, in Sarajevo, Mostar, Neum, and more.
Following several days in and around Sarajevo, we headed down to the Bosnian coastal city of Neum, passing through Mostar and by the river of Neretvi. The journey was certainly as exciting as the destination and I was awed by the landscape of mountains and rolling hills—reminiscent of Colorado. One mountain in particular, Mount Pren, stood out to me on the horizon. From my vantage point viewing this imposing mountain, I thought about how mountains and hills survive through the ages and I wondered what this mountain had witnessed overlooking Bosnia, especially given the rich history of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule, the world wars, and the most recent Bosnian war of the 90’s. If mountains could speak, I’m sure Mount Pren would have much to say.
One of the highlights of this cross-country trip for me, being interested in WWII, was learning about the “Bitka za Ranjenike na Neretvi.” There is a particular bridge there that has significance for both WWII and Tito. We learned from Nino, our bus driver, that this bridge had been the last chance to save 5,000 wounded people in 1943. Tito made the order that all wounded people were to cross the river, and once they were across, that the bridge was to be torn down to prevent the Nazis from crossing, who were behind them. Tito’s plan worked and saved many lives. My fascination stemmed from a lack of knowledge regarding how WWII had found its way into Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I return to the U.S., I plan to watch the movie Battle on the Neretvi to get more information about this battle and a better understanding of WWII in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I had seen pictures of the bridge in Mostar, but seeing it in person is a completely different experience. I had listened to a podcast by Rick Steves on the bus and understood the bridge was built by Suliman the Magnificent, an Ottoman sultan, but was stunned by the architectural genius of the bridge. It was bewildering to see on video the destruction of the bridge in 1993, but it was encouraging and seemed a beacon of hope when it was reconstructed using the original plans (found in Turkey and used in the reconstruction). Gazing at the bridge after watching this video, I had a new appreciation for it and wondered how this bridge might be a metaphor for Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole in the aftermath of so much conflict. Despite obvious differences, such that the bridge was rebuilt from its original plans and Bosnia and Herzegovina through a new plan, the Dayton Peace Accord, I think it could be a metaphor for how a city can in many ways look like how it might have before a war, and yet feel much different.
While the journey was exciting in the approach, it is quite hard to put into words seeing the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Neum. The town overlooks the water and provides an exceptional vantage point to admire the clear water and the incredible hills of Croatia in the distance. Being in Neum and swimming in the Adriatic Sea reminded me of my initial metaphor for Sarajevo, that of a rose. Neum was certainly the epitome of a flourishing rose, admired for its beauty and slightly separated from thorns.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of many surprises and I look forward to seeing and experiences those to come…