Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mostar Bridge Jumping

We took what Lonely Planet calls one of the Great European Rail Journeys through Bosnia into Herzegovina as we left Sarajevo at 7am and meandered to Mostar. It was a very old, small train with just two carriages and huge, reclining seats. Apart from a couple of other backpackers the train was full of fifty and sixty year old fishermen carrying their poles and gear and smoking profusely the entire way. The countryside was gorgeous, though complete with moments of looking at precarious viaducts and thinking, "Surely, we're not going to cross that" and then crossing it a minute later while climbing through the Bjelasnica Mountains.

Mostar is famous for its Old Bridge (Stari Most), which was completed in 1567. From Wikipedia: Charged under pain of death to construct a bridge of such unprecedented dimensions, the architect reportedly prepared for his own funeral on the day the scaffolding was finally removed from the completed structure. Certain associated technical issues remain a mystery: how the scaffolding was erected, how the stone, egg and flour was transported from one bank to the other, how the scaffolding remained sound during the long building period. The Stari Most is believed to have been the largest single span arch bridge in the world at the time it was built. As a result, this bridge can be classed among the greatest architectural works of its time.

Then in 1993 the Croat Nationalist Forces destroyed the bridge during the Balkan War. Much of Mostar was destroyed and remains evident with various warnings posted around the town. The bridge was painstakingly rebuilt over the next decade and re-opened as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It certainly was something to behold and both sides of the Neretva are dotted with restaurants and cafes so we spent almost our entire time in Mostar staring at the bridge. Young men amuse the tourists (and line their pockets) by jumping into the river below. It was quite a production to watch. First, one jumper stands on the bridge clapping his hands and looking like he is about to dive off. As a crowd gathers, he then climbs down and approaches everyone for money. When enough is collected, he makes way for the real jumper who has been standing to the side, pouring huge bottles of cold water over his body so as to ease the shock of the river water when he jumps. Then jumper #2 gets up on the bridge and leaps off it. See the video I took for a quick example.

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