If it hadn’t been for the minaret in the middle of the village, it could have been a Bastide in southern France. But it wasn’t. Počitelj is a village in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After a trip to Mostar, we were at first hesitant if we should set out again to discover another place reflecting the multi-culturalism of the Balkans. An early breakfast left us with a large enough time window before the pre-wedding lunch later that day.
“It’s here somewhere”, I said taking my eyes off the very vague map on my phone.
My eyes fell onto an impressive tower. “Yes, that must be it.”
“But where is the mosque I read about?” S. asked, just as we passed a big cross, which was also the spot designated as Počitelj on my map.
Next to a stand, selling strawberries, we climbed out of the car and marvelled at the old village of Počitelj. “This could be in the south of France” S. murmured (he must know as he lived there for quite some time).
“Strawberries from my garden 2 Euros/4 Mark” the man announced while carrying crates of strawberries from his car to his roadside stand. (The currency of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Convertible Mark, which is pegged to the Euro, but everyone accepts Euros, shops at the official exchange rate, so there is no need to have Mark, nobody really wants to be payed in Mark). We pounced on the offer, it was a bargain compared to what we pay in Paris and even to what we paid in Split, Croatia. And the taste! These were real strawberries like no one grows them.
A Dutch couple started ogling the strawberries and I overheard that the price had been raised to 5 Mark.
We made our way up into the old village. At the centre of which was the mosque. It was initially built in 1563 and badly damaged in 1993 but restored in 2002. Along the fortified walls of the citadel, I had the occasion to learn many things about Počitelj and its history. It had been a strategic point within the Ottoman Empire.
Within the ruins of the curtain wall, the view was breathtaking. The colour of the water was in dreamy turquoise and far far away on the horizon, I could make out gigantic mountains raising into the sky. It was the last weekend of April, but it felt as if it was summer.
In summer, we would have snacked on fresh figs and pomegranates growing along the cobblestone footpaths in the village. But in April, the figs, already big, were far from ripe, and the pomegranates were in the early stages of their development, some dried fruits bore witness to the riches of the seemingly barren lands.
Her words were full of compliments. I did not understand a single one of them. She told us that our daughter’s hair was beautiful and that our son had beautiful eyes. She told her younger son, that this was a beautiful girl. She blessed our children. I understood no words, but I understood the meaning of what she said.
We had never planned on travelling to Bosnia, when one thinks of Bosnia, we tend to think of the Balkan war, of the Srebrenica genocide. Bosnia’s recent past might not be rosy, but it is a breathtaking place to visit. The people carry their hearts on their sleeve and welcome you with open arms. Most of the time their smiles are genuine and everything is done for you to feel at home.
We jumped into the car and drove for 20 minutes, to a Croatian Catholic village within Bosnia where we would later in the day attend a traditional Catholic wedding. If that isn’t a clash of cultures, then what is? (I should add the bride was Croatian Catholic from Bosnia and the groom was French).
© Solveig Werner 2018. All rights reserved.