Mostar (Side 1) : Bullet Holes and Lace

Mostar Travel Blog

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[Okay I’m gonna kinda split my observations of Mostar into two ’Sides’, a loose division between observations of destruction and reconstruction so fear not if today’s entry revels a little too much in the grimmer reminders of conflict. ]

I’m trying to think if I have ever seen a bullet hole before.  It’s one of those things you think that by the age of 30 you might well have done.  But then, having grown up in middle class England why would I have?  Nope I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before.  Not like this anyway.  15 years on from the worst of the fighting here in Mostar and the bullet holes are still in full bloom and it’s a challenging, oddly hypnotic sight for the uninitiated to confront.

'Batta-tatta-tatta-tat' - you gotta break it all down before you can rebuild it.
  The condition of the voyeurism of violence.

As we roll into town along the main Marsala Tita road from Dubrovnik the houses are peppered and pitted with them.  At first, travelling along at speed it just looks like some kind of mossy growth upon the building fronts.  A fungal bloom of dull grey-brown blotches running up the sides and around the windows and guttering of often abandoned homes.  But no, these are signs of a much more modern decay.  As these grey-eyed wounds collect and spiral and strafe across the cracked plaster faces of once fine buildings, the sad parade of crippled structures is only briefly interrupted as a large cemetery of shining white stone markers opens up and flashes past.  Yes, there are two things completely pristine in Mostar.

Mended mosque in Mostar : Karadozbegova Mosque
  The grave stones and the Bridge.  But more of the latter later maybe.

Into the heart of town now and I am beginning to be amazed at the extent of the visible devastation that still exists so many years after the conflict ended.  Old stone building after building frowns down upon you with their glass eyes completely put out.  No more now than large stone sarcophagi enclosing their tumbledown innards of burnt timbers, broken glass, broken hearts, bricks and tiles and the occasional warning not to enter.  ’ATTENTION!  Dangerous ruin.’    Large tree boughs reach out of shattered walls and cracked, burnt wooden window frames.  Bursting the seams of all these pitiful scenes.  Grown too big for the limitations of human confines already.

The graceful 'arc of a rainbow' Stari Most
  Nature has been hard at work to stitch together and cover over the scars of our inflictions.  Fig leaves.  Elm and chestnut leaves to cover our naked building shames.  Mostar’s regeneration has a long way to go.  One should greet the batter-tatta-tatta-tat of jackhammers and the metallic rip and tear of cranes taken to the broken body of an old hotel by the banks of the Neretva River with some welcome I guess although it breaks the calm just as another ratta-tatta-tatta-tat once did.

I leave Miro of the Miran Guesthouse and fellow guests wilting in the shade, taking cover from the phenomenally hot sunshine (45 degrees is mentioned although not necessarily true) to break out into the light and the town and have the first of my meandering strolls.

Stevie & Stari Most
  I zig zag across and along the length of the towns main river, the Neretva that runs from East to West and is spanned by a number of bridges that link the two halves of Mostar.  Carinski Most (‘most’ meaning ‘bridge‘) moving on to Titov Most, Bunur and then the most famous of all and the iconic heart of Mostar, the graceful white stone arc of the Stari Most or ’Old Bridge’.   One of the most famous bridges in Europe.  It leaps with gentle grace over the Neretva’s waters as they flow further to be fed by meeting with the  Radobolja River dropping down from the North. 

Stari Most stands now as the brightest symbol of Mostar’s regeneration having been the most prominent and poignant victim of the intense fighting in the town in 1993, when after having stood proud for nearly 450 years it was blown up and crumbled into the deep cold waters of the Neretva to be reconstructed in the years since.

Marsala Tita Road
  But  I wish to hold most of my considerations of this beautiful bridge until tomorrow if you don’t mind.

It’s a funny process trying to get to know and understand a destination when you have no frame of reference, little or no prior knowledge and no resources to give you pointers and fill in the blanks.  A lot of the time I quite like this as you are left to try to piece together at least one idea; your own idea of a city’s identity in your own time and in your own way.  Journey making as puzzle making.  You see many pieces of the puzzle strewn about you.  A community with a past, a present and a future is composed of an infinitely expanding number of these pieces.  A never ending puzzle without edges.  Without a static picture on a box to guide you towards one finished immobile image of what the town ‘is’, or looks like, or will look like in finality.

'Bullet Holes and Lace' 1
  As it should be. 

So you have to make the best incomplete picture you can with the pieces you sift through with your eyes and pick up on the way.  See what stories you find.  Mostly just the story of destruction here.  Make some stories up to please your own imagination.  A form of reconstruction.   Appraisals of architecture, old and occasionally new.  Much that is broken.  Some that is not.  Faded shop signs.  Old dusty products within.  Broken windows with old pop concert and political fly posters torn upon them layer by layer.  Empty businesses not even far from the city’s heart.  Broken masonry.  Half torn down structures, particularly to the East of the city centre.  Buildings so pitted with bullet holes that they seem more hole than whole if you follow my meaning.

Nature takes up residence in Mostar.
  Stairways that lead to nowhere rooms and invisible floors.  Arrows that point out entrances to restaurants that no longer exist.  Ceramic tiled floors that collapse into refuse strewn holes.  Bombed out buildings whose purpose was once maybe to foster communal joy, the rusty skeletal metal awnings of an old theatre or hotel?  In the distance a high rise office block with everyone of its windows put out by artillery fire.  No funding even to put it out of its misery and tumble it to a dusty grave.  Yet to be demolished but demolished nonetheless.  A corpse propped by iron girders.

So many of the buildings have been re-inhabited by Nature, and so quickly.  The arms of trees reach up through the many broken walls and openings afforded by long absent window panes and their fine green heads of leafy hair blooming far up through the spaces where ceilings once lay.

Windows open inward to open skies.
  The roofs of these houses, often the first things to go, burnt and mortared out of existence.  Open houses that now have trees and bushes for inhabitants, playing host, inviting the attentions of the sun into their living rooms and kitchens by day and the stars and moon into their bedrooms by night.  The winds make play of these ’lives’ lived out behind doors that no longer open or close as, like the roofs, they no longer exist.  And oddest of all I feel, the ability to look up through a window from the curb side straight through to blue open sky.  Naked portals that now open inward or outward as you choose, but reveal the Outside either way. 

One window caught in the sunlight as I walk again along Marsala Tita particularly grabs my attention.

'Rothko Bullet' 1
  And I don’t know why.  Well, maybe.  Just a window.  It’s brown wooden frame surrounding delicate white lace curtains within.  But again, like the ravages of a skin disease, bullet holes blight the entire surface of the  windows surrounds.  A macabre frame for little snapshot of serene domesticity.  It is the juxtaposition of these realities I think, reminding me of conflict as an affliction upon the ‘normal’ and the ‘everyday’ that cements the image for me.  The glass has been replaced.  New curtains of delicate lace.  Home comforts inside.  And bullet holes all about.  Constant reminders of disruption and loss.

I take note of the prevalent graffiti too to see what this might teach me after the event of my visit.

'more hole than whole'
  The majority of the areas on the North, North Westerly bank of the Neretva carry various images and more often scrawls in celebration of some group called the Ultras or ’UM ’94’ or ‘The Eagles, West Mostar Crew‘.  A crude logo often with just the letter ’U’ bisected by a cruciform leads me to begin to envision some religious-ethnic kind of gang territorialism that must burn on, unseen by most visitors, like low level scrub fire not fully put out, smouldering, carrying on the feuds of the ’90s war.  The predominantly Christian Serbo-Croats residing here and then the Bosnian Muslims whose homes and mosques reside mainly to the South and South East of the Neretva where the graffiti ’communications’ parry back with support for a ’Red Army’ or the ’Red Army 1981’.

In reality, now having looked into these ‘tribal hieroglyphs’ a little more on the World Wide Wonder Web it turns out I wasn’t so far from the truth in this reading.  They in fact represent supporter groups of the town’s two main football clubs, which are broadly speaking divided along ethnic lines.  The ‘Ultras’ or ‘Ultras Mostar’ are the somewhat extreme (to the right), and almost exclusively Croat wing of the support for HŠK Zrinjski Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s oldest team (founded 1905) whom were banned between the years 1945 to 1992 under the auspices of the Yugoslavian Communist government who did not permit institutions possessive of nationalist names or symbols.*  The ‘Red Army’ are the supporters of Velež Mostar who are mainly supported by the predominantly (although not exclusively) Muslim Bosniaks.

Ultras Mostars or Mostar Eagles 1994.
  So here we have it.  Tribalism and lines of division.  In sport as in war of course.  The city has revealed another story.

But my attentions are of course not exclusively taken up with the aesthetics of destruction that Mostar presents.  Though I cannot deny the fascination of the uninitiated during my stay.  Mostar to me is a beautiful, survivor town with a great pulsing community heart, albeit a heart with chambers that continue to beat out of rhythm with one another.  Aside from my strolls I spend much time sat by the waters of the Neretva looking up at the ‘new’ Stari Most.  All life in this town, and there is so much of it, revolves around its famous Bridge and the river it spans and I can’t wait to tell you about it.

  But tomorrow…

[ Turn over to Side 2 --> ]

* Wikipedia and www.ultras-zrinjski.net

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Batta-tatta-tatta-tat - you gott…
'Batta-tatta-tatta-tat' - you got…
Mended mosque in Mostar : Karadozb…
Mended mosque in Mostar : Karadoz…
The graceful arc of a rainbow St…
The graceful 'arc of a rainbow' S…
Stevie & Stari Most
Stevie & Stari Most
Marsala Tita Road
Marsala Tita Road
Bullet Holes and Lace 1
'Bullet Holes and Lace' 1
Nature takes up residence in Mosta…
Nature takes up residence in Most…
Windows open inward to open skies.
Windows open inward to open skies.
Rothko Bullet 1
'Rothko Bullet' 1
more hole than whole
'more hole than whole'
Ultras Mostars or Mostar Eagles 19…
Ultras Mostars or Mostar Eagles 1…
Hotel ruin on the south bank of th…
Hotel ruin on the south bank of t…
First glimpse of beautiful Stari M…
First glimpse of beautiful Stari …
The medieval walkways of Old Town …
The medieval walkways of Old Town…
Strolling up onto Stari Most
Strolling up onto Stari Most
Neretva river and mosque
Neretva river and mosque
Nobody home.
Nobody home.
Bullet Holes and Lace 2
'Bullet Holes and Lace' 2
Me and my shadow.
Me and my shadow.
TR VIK
TR "VIK"
Red Army 1981, supporters of Velez…
Red Army 1981, supporters of Vele…
Rothko Bullet 2
'Rothko Bullet' 2
No more glass.
No more glass.
Fly Poster abstract 1
Fly Poster abstract 1
Fly poster abstract 2
Fly poster abstract 2
Intricate public building facade i…
Intricate public building facade …
Broken Banister
'Broken Banister'
F**k the war!
'F**k the war!'
Reservation
'Reservation'
Theatre Awning (abstract)
Theatre Awning (abstract)
Something strangely new and shiny …
Something strangely new and shiny…
Public art, Mostar style
Public art, Mostar style
Memorial fountain.
Memorial fountain.
West Mostar Crew
'West Mostar Crew'
One of the slightly cryptic Ultras…
One of the slightly cryptic Ultra…
Cracks and wires.
Cracks and wires.
Red Army grafitti
Red Army grafitti
Mostar
photo by: brcko