The internet, and photos on the internet, can be somewhat deceptive – says me writing and posting photos on the internet. Such was the case with our trip to Jablanica Lake in Bosnia. I was impressed with the photos I saw online and asked Armela, our host, would she prepare a tour for us up to Jablanica Lake and the nearby World War 2 bridge monument, dedicated to the partisan battle against German forces on the Neretva River. Armela’s reaction was diplomatic but not inspiring – she said “the Partisan Bridge is good to see, but the lake ………………… Okay I will plan something out”. What she came back with was a great day of history and ‘adventure’ with the lake being a huge disappointment.
Armela was a bit of a history buff and sensing my interest built our tour around the ex-Yugoslavia and the Second World War. The tour cost 120 Euros for the two of us and included a lovely lamb lunch, transport, guide, and all entry fees.
The first stop was the Partisan Memorial Cemetery in Mostar. My understanding is that a partisan is a person from a community who commences fighting for a purpose, even though they have no military training – basically the common folk form their own army and fight against an army. In this case the Yugoslav people (with a strong communist influence) rose up and fought the German Army.
The memorial cemetery was built in 1965 and contains the remains of over 500 partisans who died fighting the Germans. The mystery though is how this grand monument, that looks like a fairy tale setting, could be allowed to slide into such poor state of repair.
The vast monument is a dump with most, if not all, of its peculiar puzzle shaped tombstones overturned. The monument is an amazing design with cascading features, fountains and layered embankments – it looks like ancient lost tribal burial ground not a relatively recent monument to war heroes. This is in the centre of Mostar itself, so why did it slip into decay!!!
Apparently for many years few people cared about the monument and it became a place for drug addicts, drunks, political graffiti and became a garbage dump.
Recently though, within the last month of October 2017, a local journalist has made efforts to restore the monument and he personally has organised a lot of rubbish removed and gardening to be done – it must have been an awful sight as it still looked bad when we went. This local reporter actually turned up when we were there and he was so happy to see us showing an interest. His plan is to restore it to what it should look like and that will be an amazing sight as the design is so unique.
I am not sure if it was because of the disrepair but I found visiting the memorial graveyard very moving, in fact I could describe it as haunting. I would love to see it restored and maintained as it would be a wonderful monument.
Whilst I pondered the lingering effects of seeing the Partisan Monument Graveyard, we were taken out to near the current Mostar airport, where Armela said I was going to love this. We parked by the side of the road near the airport and then walked about a kilometre along a path. The path led to a concrete bridge type of enclosure – it is here it all started to get very James Bondish as this was obviously the underground lair of an evil, criminal, genius hell-bent on world domination.
Once we walked under the bridge there was a concrete fortified cave, about 20 metres into the pitch black fortification was the largest and thickest metal sliding door – the door was nearly half-open and beyond the door was a hangar, some two hundred metres in length.
Armela explained this was a secret hangar built into a mountain that housed six Mig military fighter jets when Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia. I felt like I was living a cold war spy novel – it was awesome. I found it hard to believe a secret military hangar was just there on the side of the road, unkept and falling into decay. Surely it is a tourist attraction just waiting to happen!!! This would not be the last time in the day we would enter a secret bunker!
We then left Mostar and headed to Jablanica. Now this was a grand old scenic drive as we followed the Neretva River and, on several occasions, we pulled to the side of the road and went into photo clicking utopia – the river, mountain views are spectacular. By road it is about 50 kilometres from Mostar to Jablanica and it takes about an hour, depending on photo stops!!!
Jablanica is up in the mountains and the town is ringed by snow-capped mountains. During World War Two a strategic train bridge crossed the fast flowing Neretva River. The partisans were in full retreat from the German army and the narrow rail bridge at Jablanica was the only way across the fast flowing and treacherous river. The German Panzer tanks were closing in on the partisans and then the partisans did something unusual – they destroyed the bridge without crossing it, but they destroyed it in such a way that, despite seemingly to be completely destroyed from the air, the bridge could, in fact, be quickly repaired. The Panzers changed direction anticipating the partisan forces would now head along the river bank, this gave the partisans time and the bridge was quickly rebuilt by the partisans and they crossed it. Once across they re-destroyed the bridge preventing the Panzers from crossing and saving the partisans – though in the coming battles many of them would be killed in fighting.
Today, the bridge in the water is the monument to this battle.
The bridge is tethered by steel cables, as the river does flow very fast, but you can go up close to the well-preserved remains of the bridge. There is also a small museum next to the bridge which outlines the history of the battle. The park next to the bridge has an old train, some cannons, and other such memorials to the battle – it was an interesting and unusual historical monument.
From there it was a short drive to the artificial Jablanica Lake. The construction of the Jablanica Dam in 1953 created the lake. The lake became a Bosnian tourist destination and many summer houses were built along its shores, with fishing being a big attraction. However at the start of 2017, the lake disappeared and took all its fish with it. The water is returning, but not the fish. We were there in November 2017 and the lake was about 30% capacity. You can see that it could have been a beautiful spot – but not when we went – let’s hope the water and the fish return.
We then drove about 30 minutes up to the town of Konjic. Konjic is a quaint little town which is only 60 kilometres from Sarajevo.
Konjic is one of the oldest towns in Bosnia and dates back some 4000 years. Just outside of Konjic, ex-Yugoslav President Tito built his secret military bunker. This bunker has recently been opened to the public and you can enter the bunker on a prearranged tour – we were now going to the bunker.
We were booked on a 2pm tour with 30 men from Kuwait – Di and Armela would be the only ladies!!! The bunker lies on a quiet and serene river bank. There is an ammunitions factory close by and you enter the bunker through a house on the river bank, in fact, there are three such nondescript houses close to each other. The houses back on to the Zlatar Mountain.
At the back of the house we entered through, there is a long tunnel that leads to three large metal doors, once through these metal doors you descend some 220 metres, and end up 280 metres below ground.
Amazingly, the bunker was not as a protection from a nuclear attack from the US, but more Tito feared the Soviets because of his unique ‘style of Communism’. The bunker is a labyrinth of passage ways.
The construction of the bunker began in 1953 and the location is nearly the exact centre of the old Yugoslavia. The construction was not finished until 1979 some 26 years later. It was built to house 350 personnel for at least six months. The bunker was never used and was only ‘visited’ by Tito on four occasions. The construction bill for the bunker was 4.6 Billion US Dollars in 1979 – that sounds like a lot of money in its day for a facility never used.
Tito died in 1980 and the bunker sat unattended until the war in 1992 which led to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The then Yugoslav army ordered the bunker destroyed but the order was disobeyed and the bunker given to Bosnian forces. The bunker was then mothballed. The bunker became a time capsule as the air-conditioning was run continually since its construction started and the state of art 1970’s communication and equipment have all been beautifully preserved – gotta love those manual typewriters!!!
The tour takes you through the communication centre, Tito’s residence, conference rooms, the military barracks, the air filtration system, water tanks, the escape exits, etc. It took us over two hours to wander through the facility.
There are though some very different and unusual aspects to the bunker. In 2011, 44 artists from 18 countries came together to turn the facility into an art exhibition, the D-O ARK Underground Contemporary Art Biennial Project. Exhibitions were held in 2013 and 2015. Today there are 50 permanent art exhibitions randomly placed throughout the bunker. This art does include graffiti. As is the case with art, some of it is baffling, some incredibly clever, some simple and some complex. In the end, though, seeing contemporary art, side by side, to a world lost in the 1970’s was, for us, a unique experience. I loved our tour of Tito’s Bunker and would recommend it as an unusual historical experience.
On the way back to Mostar we stopped at a delightful restaurant for some scrumptious lamb, and this just topped off a truly wonderful tour of a lovely part of Bosnia.
The day was a long one as we left Mostar at 9am and did not get back until after 6.30pm, but it was an interesting and rewarding insight into a time gone by. Armela and Adem were wonderful AirBnB hosts and the tours they put together for us were magnificent. We recommend both very highly and loved staying with and meeting them.
The next day we left Mostar and returned to Croatia by bus. We spent a couple of days resting in the picturesque village of Cavtat. Cavtat is close to the Dubrovnik airport. We do not normally fly and we only fly as a last resort once other options have been extinguished – we would fly soon to Italy.
Cavtat was very quiet and empty, but during peak season can get very busy and it is a convenient day trip to, or from, Dubrovnik.
Our host gave us a well-intentioned welcome gift of a bottle of Grappa – that, to be honest, tasted absolutely horrible.
We were now headed back into the Schengen Visa Zone and the clock started ticking again. Rome here we come.
The adventure continues……………………….