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The white-marbled Mostar’s Old Bridge arches upon rapidly flowing Neretva River, as a symbol of peace and hope. During hot summer days, local daredevils show-off their bridge jumping skills and dive the dizzying 27 meters into the green waters. Just before sunset, the cream-colored stone surface of Stari Most turns golden, shimmering upon the beautifully renovated old town of Mostar. In the evening haze, legends and ghost stories come alive.
Mostar Old Bridge: The Soul of Mostar
The Old Bridge, Stari Most, is the heart and soul of Mostar: it’s the playground for local kids, lovers gazing at sun dipping below the banks of Neretva, bridge jumping adrenaline junkies, and souvenir shopping tourists. Even the best ice cream in town is served right beside Stari Most – and best enjoyed on the bridge.
The Old Bridge of Mostar has been an essential part of Mostar’s history right from the beginning. Mostar was even named after the bridge keepers (mostari). For hundreds of years, the Mostar bridge has stood as an icon of multicultural coexistence, connecting the east bank’s Muslim and west bank’s Catholic communities. Ironically, it was a war that finally destroyed this symbol of peace. But let’s dig deeper into the history and tragic legends of Stari Most!
The Birth of Mostar Old Bridge (Not Without Grave Digging)
The city of Mostar was built on the lap of green Neretva River and flourished as an Ottoman frontier town in 15th and 16th centuries. Mostar was developed further during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first bridge in Mostar was built by the Turks, under the command of Suleyman the Magnificent, already in the 16th century. After nine years of labor, the Old Bridge of Mostar was finally completed in 1566. The bridge was drawn by a famous architect, Mimar Sinan, and constructed by his student Mimar Hajruddin. Sinan was the chief Ottoman architect of Suleyman the Magnificent. His students later designed the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and helped to create Taj Mahal.
Legends tell that the architect, Mimar Hajruddin, had to make it or break it. The Ottoman sultan was so tired of unsuccessful bridge building attempts that he threatened to execute every failing architect. Before the wooden supports of Old Bridge were removed, Mimar Hajruddin had already started digging his own grave. Luckily, his work was celebrated as the widest man-made arch in the world!
Destruction and Resurrection of Stari Most – From War Relict to UNESCO World Heritage Site
The original Stari Most managed to stand for staggering 427 years, through two world wars. As a part of 1990 Croat-Bosniak conflict, the Old Bridge of Mostar was bombed down by the Croat troops in 1993.
With the help of UNESCO, Mostar Bridge was rebuilt in 2004, stone by stone and according to the original architecture. Even the initial flaws were honored. Some of the original limestones were rescued from the bottom of the Neretva River to celebrate the resurrection of Stari Most. So technically, the current bridge is not “old”, but it’s still a replica of the old bridge. Still, it’s a stunning landmark and icon of peace known all over the world.
The iconic Mostar Old Bridge in its evening gown, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo by Piritta Paija
Mostar Bridge Jumping Ritual: It’s How Bosnian Boys Become Men!
According to history books, the first person jumped off Mostar bridge already in 1664.
Yes, it’s a Bosnian legend: jumping off Mostar Bridge is how a boy becomes a man in Mostar! Crazy locals claim that boy is not worth of girlfriend or job without having the balls to jump off Stari Most. After all, jumping of Mostar Bridge is a 450-year old tradition.
Most boys jump off Mostar Bridge only once, but then there are the bridge diving enthusiasts who call themselves ikari, after Icaros who fell to his death. Even the local diving club is named Mostarski Ikari. Evidently, they acknowledge the risks of bridge jumping and take great pride in their courage.
Mostarski Ikari Diving Club has been officially operating since the end of the war in 1995. Back then the iconic stone bridge was collapsed, but it didn’t hold them back. The diving club installed a platform beside the temporary suspension bridge and carried on with their annual bridge diving competition. July 2018 marked 452nd annual Mostar bridge diving competition.
During the summertime, the diving club members take turns in jumping off the bridge for money. It’s a fair deal, as eager tourists are willing to pay for the show and pictures, and the diver still risks his life for the thrill. They know how to tease the crowds to gather the next 25€ to qualify a jump. The art of bridge diving is entertaining to watch, so why not to support a diver and the club.
How to Organize Mostar Bridge Jump
While bridge jumping from Stari Most has become increasingly popular among adrenaline-thirsty tourists, I wouldn’t do it or even recommend it. Local ikari know the art of bridge jumping – and the risks. Of course, tourists are briefed for jumping off safely and accustoming their bodies to the cold.
Still up to it and ready to leap? You might want to read the next chapter about the hazards of jumping off Mostar Bridge – or any bridge – before making the decision. Many tourists have also had a change of hearts before seeing the bridge and standing up there looking down: 24-28 meters doesn’t sound like much, but it looks daunting for sure.
If you’re still willing, organizing Mostar Bridge jumping is easy. Mostarski Ikari Diving Club organizes all bridge jumps for adrenaline rush seeking tourists. There are always a couple of guys from the dive club hanging around the bridge – and they’re usually wearing swimming suits.
How’s the jump, then? Well, you will splash against the green Neretva River in 3 seconds after jumping off Stari Most. Your short flight has a speed nearing 80 km/h. Water temperature hardly ever reaches 10 degrees, so it will be a cold dip for sure.
Step-By-Step Mostar Bridge Jumping Guide for Tourists
After settling a deal with Mostar diving club, the bridge jumping candidate is given a short briefing and a wetsuit to fight the coldness of Neretva.
Then, each candidate must practice safe jumping at a 10-meter high training platform downstream from Stari Most. Proper bridge jumping technique needs get approved: at first, you’ll get a couple of jumps to prove that you can do it. More is required if the diving club instructor isn’t convinced.
After getting approved to jump, the diving instructor takes you back to the Old Bridge and confirms that you’re 100% up to the challenge.
Then, the instructor helps you through the crowds to the middle of the bridge and helps you climb over the railing.
Before jumping off, listen to your diving instructor’s final orders and take deep breaths.
When you jump, widen your arms like wings and hold your core tight, keeping legs together.
Before hitting the water, bring arms tightly towards your body (and protect your precious body parts). Keep your form: be careful not to lean backward or forward.
When you hit the water, remain calm and try to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure. Swim to the shore, where diving club members are already waiting for you, ready to help you out of the cold water.
The jump costs 35€ (10€ for the training and 25€ for the Old Bridge jump). You’ll be credited with a certificate and your name is written the Diving Club record book.
You’ll also be a lifetime member of Mostar Diving Club – meaning that you can jump off Stari Most as many times as you wish!
Bridge jumping candidite performing a rehearsal jump by the Old Bridge of Mostar
The Risks of Bridge Jumping: Deadly Accidents in Mostar
Many locals can tell you openly that it’s definitely not safe to jump off Mostar Bridge. When calculating risks, I usually ask how many people have died doing so (that was my main concern with Victoria Falls Bungee, as well, though I ended up doing it anyway).
Yes, people have died jumping off Mostar Bridge. At least four deadly accidents are reported since 2012, along with countless serious injuries.
Most Common Injuries of Bridge Jumping in Mostar
Risk of injuries is high, and even higher when the water level of Neretva River is at its lowest during the summer. There are rocks and branches beneath the bridge and currents can be strong. When the river is low, the height of the bridge can be up to 28 meters, while during spring the height can be “only” 24 meters.
Severe bruising is the most common injury, but too many people also tell about broken bones, dislocated limbs, and even spine injuries. While many blogs claim Mostar bridge jumping safe, YouTube is full of videos of jumps gone bad by unlucky tourists.
How To Prevent Bridge Jumping Injuries in Stari Most
Be careful at the bridge and only jump when you’re ready to do it in a good form. Slipping is dangerous because then you cannot prepare your body for hitting the water. 27-meter jump is not a joke. You must hit water properly to avoid injuries: that’s what the training is all about. The injuries, such as broken bones, could get you into serious trouble in the water.
Most tourists prefer to jump feet first, which is safer if you’re not super confident in diving head first. There’s only one really big but: locals told us that jumping feet first might cause hitting legs at the bottom. Please make sure that the water level is high enough before planning your bridge jump.
Be prepared to the cold river and wear a wetsuit if it’s provided – or just bathe in cold water. Neretva is among the coldest rivers in the world. At least one of the Mostar bridge jumping deaths was caused by heart attack: the contrast between a hot summer day and nearly freezing water can take its toll even for a healthy person.
Mostar's Crooked Bridge, Bosnia and Hertzegovina
Is Mostar Haunted by Ghosts of War and Tragic Incidents?
Some locals call Mostar “the ghost town, haunted by itself”. The Old Bridge is certainly a haunting sight after dark when day-tripping tourists are swept away, and only occasional locals traverse the stone arch. While walking on Mostar Bridge at night, a cold gust of wind made me feel chilly from inside, as I pictured the horrendous incidents this old bridge had witnessed through its 450-year history.
During the Bosnian conflict, 100 000-200 000 people were slaughtered, mainly on the streets of Sarajevo, Mostar, Srebrenica, and Banja Luka. It was ethnically rooted civil war, were neighbors and loved ones were set against each other.
In Mostar, the Old Bridge marked both the divide and the connection between the Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, and Yugoslavs. The first Siege of Mostar was fought in 1992; the second Siege of Mostar lasted from 1993 to 1994. In June 1992, the Serbs destroyed all other bridges in Mostar but Stari Most, leaving it as the only gateway across Neretva. In the second Siege of Mostar, the Old Bridge was used for combat on the front line, until Croats shelled it on 9th of November 1993.
In the aftermaths of war, Mostar was credited as “the most heavily destroyed city in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. In the Bosnian parts of Mostar, around 60-70% of houses were totally destroyed or badly damaged. The scars of war run still deep and bullet-ridden facades can be seen around Mostar, especially in the eastern part.
I bet hundreds of agonized souls have jumped off the bridge to their death and even greater number of civilians are raped and murdered during the wars. I wonder how many mostaris, guardians of the bridge, also roam in the grounds with other restless souls. While many locals say that the Old Bridge is haunted, to our misfortune we didn’t catch any ghost stories. If you’ve heard about the ghosts of Mostar, please share the stories in the comments below!
Mostar Old Bridge seen from Stari Grad of Mostar, Bosnia and Hertzegovina
Best Things To Do in Mostar (Around Mostar’s Old Bridge)
You don’t need a plan to visit Mostar Bridge: just go there and everything will get to you.
Admire local handicrafts and shop jewelry: both sides of the bridge are covered with souvenir stands.
Pick the best Italian gelato in Bosnia from a stand stating so. Take pictures and indulge in the spirit of Mostar.
A little café occupies the tower at the west bank of the bridge: it’s the best place to observe the buzz upon the bridge and see bridge divers fly. The western tower is called Halebija: along with the café, it hosts also the Mostar Diving Club and city art gallery.
There’s another tower at the eastern end of Stari Most called Tara, where’s the Museum of the Old Bridge.
The two observation decks below the bridge are the best spot for photographing and admiring the bridge jumps. Find your way down to the riverfront through the café and restaurants at the western end of Stari Most, immediately on your right before stepping at the bridge.
Explore Stari Grad, the old town of Mostar at the east bank of Neretva. Though beautiful old buildings are scarred by war and most of them host restaurants and souvenir stands for tourists, the charming Ottoman atmosphere remains. The old town is still populated by Bosnians, while there are lots of Croats living in the western Mostar.
Alternative to the Old Bridge: Crooked Bridge of Mostar
A smaller Ottoman-era stone-arch bridge named Kriva cuprija, the Crooked Bridge, crosses one of the tributaries of Neretva just a stone throw away from the Old Bridge. The Crooked Bridge looks like a miniature of the Old Bridge.
Just like its big brother, also this ancient bridge was also destroyed. Floods swiped away much of its footpath in December 2000, but once again UNESCO came to help and restored the Crooked Bridge to its former glory.
Crooked Bridge is just a 5-minute stroll away from the Old Bridge and surrounded by restaurants. One of the terraces makes a perfect dinner spot. Pop in the pub at the eastern end the Crooked Bridge for craft beer at the terrace overlooking the bridge.
How to Get to Mostar From Sarajevo or Dubrovnik (By Train, Bus, and Car)
Mostar is 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Dubrovnik is 81 kilometers (51 miles) away. Driving from Dubrovnik takes around 2,5 hours, while the bus takes around 3,5 hours. Driving from Sarajevo to Mostar takes around 1,5-2 hours, while the buses take around 2,5 hours.
I strongly recommend taking a train from Sarajevo to Mostar, as it’s among the most scenic train travels in the world. The rails were reopened in 2017. New Talgo trains are comfortable and have even free wifi! Check out our article on this gorgeous trip by train from Sarajevo to Mostar! The trains run all the way to Capljina near the Croatian coast, from where you can take a bus to Dubrovnik, Split, or Makarska.
Where to Eat in Mostar
To be frank, all traditional Bosnian restaurants in Mostar were rather weak in our opinion. If you love meat, you might disagree, though. The national plates, which consist of sausages and grilled meat, come at around 15-20 KM (7,50-10 €) and easily quench the hunger of two. Many restaurants offer million-dollar views to the Old Bridge of Mostar, which alone qualifies for a romantic dinner.
The best traditional restaurant in Mostar according to our inspection is FoodHouse on the western bank of Neretva, appr. 100 meters from Stari Most. We had awful experience in Sadrvan, which is usually listed among the best restaurants in Mostar (it’s a tourist trap serving bland and overcooked food).
Pekaras (bakeries) offer the traditional Bosnian pies and pastries filled with either meat, cheese or spinach, so if you haven’t tasted them, do it in Mostar!
If you have you been in Mostar, please share with us your best tips for exploring and photographing the Old Bridge and surrounding Old Town of Mostar!
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