It’s a place straight out of a fairytale: deep forests, bottomless lakes, rivers that pour out of gaping holes in the mountainside, waterfalls, crystal clear azure seas and a thousand islands dotting a coastline where Roman ruins, medieval city walls and arcane necropolises sit amongst modern buildings that bear the scars of war. This complex and misunderstood (by Americans, at least) part of the world is rich with history and natural beauty, and it’s an underrated motorcycling destination—which is why I was so excited to experience it on Adriatic Moto Tours’ Adriatic Riviera Tour. Slovenia-based Adriatic Moto Tours (AMT) specializes in introducing motorcyclists to the lesser-known destinations of Central and Eastern Europe, far from the typical crowds of tourists, and showing off the region’s 2,000 years of culture and history.
Thirteen years ago, in 2004, in front of the newly renovated Old Bridge in Mostar, a monument of the 0 category on UNESCO’s world heritage list, 650 liters of coffee were made while divers competed, and the citizens of Mostar drank 8,000 cups of coffee.
The largest coffee pot in the world in a sense became the protected sign of BiH tradition and cultural heritage. The coffee pot has become a regular guest at virtually all cultural manifestation both in and out of BiH. It steals all the attention from other attractions.
The huge coffee pot is an attraction of its own, while a million people from across the world at various manifestations and events, such as the World Expo 2010 in China and the World Soccer Championship in Brazil in 2014, have drank coffee from it.
For more than three decades Semir Kazazic-Miro has been leaping from a bridge and plunging 70 feet into the ice-cold, fast-flowing waters of the Neretva River below.
Since the span was originally built in 1566, the Stari Most — or “Old Bridge” — Mostar’s main attraction has been a place where residents show off their high-diving skills.
The Stari Most has also been a prominent symbol for the peaceful co-existence of Muslim Bosniaks, Christian Croats and mostly Orthodox Serbs.
Yet rising tensions between the ethnic groups following the collapse of Yugoslavia culminated in the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, that left an estimated 100,000 people dead and nearly two million others displaced.
Despite sniper fire and heavy shelling from the nearby hills, Kazazic-Miro and his fellow divers continued to jump from the landmark through the war.
Traces of troubled past lure at every step but the walk is peaceful on the cobbled streets of Mostar. You can hardly see signs of the war as the site was widely reconstructed and even Stari Most, the glorious Old Bridge that stood here for more than 425 years before being destroyed in 1993 by the Croats during the Bosnian War, was rebuilt.
The replica of the bridge, an engineering miracle of its time, is now as beautiful as the original in any light, and it is a sign that life is back on track in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The war took its toll on the people of Mostar but with peace came the time to heal and now the Old Town with its bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The gravity defying stone bridge binds the two sides of a city whose story begins with its construction by a student of ‘the Michelangelo of Ottoman architecture.’
Drenched in sweat, holding onto a rock as the icy aquamarine waters of the Neretva River swirl dangerously past, I stare up at the bridge for the moment I’ve been waiting for all day: Somebody is going to jump.
The crowd yells, and in the span of three seconds one of the divers plummets 80 feet into the river below, before emerging safely.
The bridge is none other than the Stari Most, the iconic gravity-defying stone bridge whose existence spoke to the ingenuity and talent of Ottoman design and engineering, and whose destruction in 1993 came to symbolize the wanton horror of the Balkan Wars.