When travelling from the Adriatic coast towards the hinterland, in the direction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, visitors will get to witness adorable and charming locations that will meet different sorts of expectations. As soon as the state border is crossed, it takes roughly 15 min of an easy ride to reach the first authentic site that encompasses various sorts of a Herzegovinian past.
In the past decade, the village of Počitelj became an inevitable stop for most of the tour operators covering the Balkans. The hinterland of the Balkans, despite some of its well-known locations at the Adriatic coast (Bay of Kotor, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Istria peninsula) represents quite an unknown and unexplored tourist region. Therefore, it consists of many places most of Balkan visitors don’t expect to see.
Počitelj presents one of few picture/perfect architectural ensembles in the entire country. Its appearance shaped through the centuries within a natural karst amphitheatre-like hillside provides Počitelj irresistible charm almost every visitor notices immediately as seeing the place.
The integrity of the ensemble is highly preserved from medieval times to the late 18th century. A cliff naturally descends abruptly to the bank of the Neretva river. Herzegovinian karst naturally formed a rocky cliff which future founders and builders of Počitelj heavily relied on.
A time machine would surprise us if we could teleport back to the 16th and 17th century, a golden era of Počitelj. Before that, according to the historic sources of different provenance, it is presumed the foundations of the place were laid out by Bosnia’s most influential King Tvrtko I. Kotromanić in 1383. Preceding the Ottoman four centuries-long Ottoman rule of the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina, Počitelj was shortly controlled by Hungarian military detachment.
During the most stable period of the Ottoman rule (1471 – 1697) a frontier towards Venetian lands was relatively peaceful. During this period extensive construction of the typical Ottoman public buildings took place. Madrassah (Muslim high school), Mosque, Hamam, mekteb (Muslim primary school), imaret (soup kitchen), han (Turkish inn) and clock-tower were built.
Hence, regarding the development of the Počitelj as an urban ensemble, we can roughly differentiate two major periods in its history: medieval and ottoman.
Most of the existing buildings inside of the Počitelj walls are dating to the afore-mentioned golden era (16th and 17th century). Most of these activities were done with the purpose to make Počitelj self-sustaining and pleasant place to live at the same time.
Gavrankapetanović tower, the most exposed point of Počitelj ramparts. The family of Gavrankapetanović was in charge of the Počitelj military district throughout the entire 19th century. They, as well as the other Bosnian and Herzegovinian nobility, enjoyed a privileged status. They could request absolutely anything from Sultan and Sublime Porte if they managed to successfully secure the border and Neretva river valley.
Interior of the Gavrankapetanović fort. It is highly recommendable to climb up to the last floor of the silo-shaped fort overlooking the village. Most of the breathtaking photos of Počitelj were taken from this very place. Why not take some on your own?
The houses of Počitelj are in absolute balance with the surrounding nature. Builders in the past used what they had around them as a construction material. If Herzegovina doesn’t lack in something, that would be limestone. Hence, the houses and terrace gardens of Počitelj are standing as the most natural continuation from God-made towards the man-made structure.
Some of the scientific data assert Počitelj has specific microclimatic conditions. Allegedly a temperature, humidity, wind and turbulence, dew, frost, heat balance, and evaporation are in perfect mutual harmony. Hence, spring blossom occurs normally already in February, roughly two months before the trees are blooming in Bosnia.
On one occasion a local lady said: “when I attended mekteb (Muslim primary school) a teacher used to narrate what can we expect in paradise and what it will look like. While listening to him, I had a feeling he was describing how my garden looked like”
The major feature of Mediterranean architecture is the use of gable roofs, instead of hipped roofs, a solution mostly applied by the Ottomans. Terrace-shaped courtyards of Počitelj residents is what leaves visitors in awe. A beautiful combination of stone, flowers, grapevine, fig and pomegranate trees also with a breathtaking view on a Neretva river valley will spark enviousness among those seeing this place for the first time.
Nowadays, depending on everybody’s wishes and level of fitness there are two major ways to dive into the Počitelj fairytale. It is better not to have any expectations, so your mental receptors can absorb the true and authentic DNA of this site.
A major stairway leading towards the main mosque and Gavrankapetanović residential complex. During the high season (March – November) friendly residents will find protection of the shade under the mighty inner walls and chit-chat while trying to offer locally made stuff, from textile, work of art, and most importantly local fresh fruits.
The war period brought serious tribulation to all of the Mostar citizens. Especially during the conflict between Bosnian and Croatian forces, the worst kind of urban warfare was set up in the middle of the city. Neighborhood streets were turned into frontlines and freedom of travel was soon determined by the sniping activities and the other forms of artillery shelling.
The “lower gate” used to be part of the entrance secure tower and was closed for any visitors from sunset till sunrise during the Ottoman period. Počitelj, besides its developed civilian structures, was primarily a military location with the main goal to guard one of the most exposed borders of the Empire. The “Lower gate” entrance requires a certain level of a hike uphill. But, the other perspective would be: more stopping, more time to interact with Počitelj. While “Upper gate” requires a 5 min drive around the village and it is an easier option for visitors to familiarise with the entire village while descending into the valley of Neretva.
Numerous buildings still stand demolished, especially at the eastern city bank and alongside Boulevard street, the war dividing line between warring sides. In the photo, we see the present condition of the University library building, situated next to the renovated Mostar gymnasium.
In the former Gavrankapetanović residential house, given its extraordinarily comfortable setting, in 1964 an International Art Colony was founded, serving as one of the first of this kind in Southeastern Europe. Painters, sculptors, and printmakers from all around the globe gather in different periods, mostly at the end of the summer and do what they’re best in.
It isn’t surprising given that Počitelj is the place often compared with divine elements and nature.
Nowadays, roughly 40 individuals are residing within Počitelj walls, and population increases during the summer vacation period and weekends.
In the foot of the urban ensemble, at the main market, former bazaar, apart from ladies supplying visitors with organic fruits, there are two restaurants. Make a break, take your Bosnian coffee, and digest the beauty in all of its glory you witnessed at this special place.