My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk.
If I understand Bosnia and Herzegovina’s geography correctly, the country is made up of two geographical regions: Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Pretty straightforward, until you get to the country’s historical regions which I won’t embarrass myself trying to understand.) Herzegovina takes up a quarter of the country (it has no official borders) and comprises the southern part; its name means "duke's land,” a reference to a medieval duchy. Mostar is the region’s largest city and the terrain is rocky, mountainous, and green with the emerald Neretva River slicing through the countryside. When I visited in late March, droves of tourists had yet to descend on the area and the weather couldn’t be more perfect, so I had this little slice of heaven to myself. I arranged a 6-hour tour of the area for less than $60, a deal considering that I had a knowledgeable tour-guide-slash-photographer all to myself. Herzegovina is truly a lovely area, and I enjoyed experiencing the area's unique mix of nature, religion, and historic buildings. Enjoy!
Blagaj Tekija (Dervish House)
If I were to ever pick a place to settle down, it would look something like the Blagaj Tekija, a monastery for Dervish cults. Built in the early 1500s, this exotic yet humble collection of Ottoman and Mediterranean style buildings quietly sits by a cave on the blue-green Buna river. Dreams are made of this stuff, and the monastery has been rebuilt, expanded, and renovated many times. Ruins of the Blagaj fort look down on the Tekija from a steep cliff above, surprisingly at natural level, and urban development moved to the river when trade and agriculture proved too difficult with water so far away. Despite its small size, the Dervish House has a gathering room (where Zikr praise-chanting occurred three nights a week), Turkish bath, kitchen, coffee room, guest room, and turbe (room that serves as a tomb); visitors must remove their shoes and women must cover themselves.
Our next stop was the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Žitomislići, a church built and rebuilt on tragedies. The original building was constructed in the late 1500s by the Ottoman Empire with the seminary opening in 1858. Tragically, in 1941 the Ustaše (a super fascist, super nationalist Croatian movement) tortured and killed the monks of Žitomislić and threw their bodies in a pit. According to Wikipedia, they proceeded to plunder the buildings, raze the complex to the ground. After the war, the monastery was rebuilt and the bodies of the monks were exhumed and placed in a tomb. In 1992, the Croatian Defence Council destroyed the facility after the collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2002, leaving fallen stones where they lay, Žitomislić was meticulously reconstructed to its former glory. The brightly-colored and detailed wall paintings inside are spectacular and worth a visit alone.
Počitelj is a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate, and I'm glad that I was able to visit it and preemptively check it off my bucket list. This small walled town carved into the bank of the Neretva river was supposedly settled in the late 1300s and features medieval and Ottoman architecture. A quick hike to the stone ruins on the hill is worth the expended calories, both for the breathtaking view and the fruit stand waiting at the bottom.
Stunning Kravica was quiet when I visited, with a handful of pale tourists sunbathing and covered women walking along the edge. In the summer and fall, the area is packed with swimmers and sunbathers enjoying waterside cafes, camping, and lush nature. After dipping my feet in the chilly water, I tried to take a few decent photos (quite the challenge with so much mist) and headed back to Mostar, happy with the diversity and uniqueness of the beautiful Herzegovina treasures I had seen that day.