As we crossed the picturesque bridge in Mostar, a young man in a bathing suit was resting on the rails. He waited patiently, as if he had all the time in the world. All that it would take to get him to dive into the waters of the Neretva River 24 meters below was 25 euros, but the tourists walking across the bridge didn't want to donate money to see his feat.
The bridge in Mostar, one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this despite the fact that it's actually a reconstruction of a 16th century Ottoman bridge. The original Stari Most, as it is called, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War.
Commissioned by the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by Mimar Hayruddin, the original bridge was built over a nine-year period and completed in 1566. With its hump-backed shape, the bridge is considered one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture of the time.
Crossing the stepped pedestrian bridge is the most memorable part of one's visit to Mostar. The views up and down the river are simply spectacular. On the far side, there is a cobblestone street leading through the old town's touristy souvenir bazaar. There are plenty of restaurants offering tasty meals, some of them situated on the river shore below the bridge.
Everything looks so neat, so new, and that's because it is. Almost 90% of Mostar was destroyed during the 1991-1995 war, including all 36 of the city's mosques. During those years, the river divided the city between its Christian and Muslim districts, with snipers shooting back and forth. Today, the city has been rebuilt, although there are still buildings pockmarked by shells fired.
Crossing the bridge again, the young man is still waiting to dive in exchange for his fee. Mostar is reportedly the warmest city in all of Europe, but the river far below is very cold. But, many do jump from the bridge. The highlight of the year is the annual diving competition held at the end of July. The first recorded instance of someone diving from the bridge is from 1664.
Even if you don't happen to visit Mostar in July, you can still pay a member of the city's diving club to plunge into the cold river for your viewing pleasure. But, would you jump off the bridge for money?
Previously posted at The Huffington Post.