Bosnia and Hercegovina
Počitelj occupies a natural amphitheatre on a bend in the strategically critical Neretva river a little way west of Mostar. The first fortress was built here by the Hungarians in 1444 but was soon taken by the Ottoman Empire in 1471. They set about re-fortifying the Castle and built a standard Ottoman town in the valley below, with a mosque, medresa, hamam and clock tower - all required by Ottoman law.
The strategic importance of Počitelj began to grow as the Neretva river became one of the few easy routes through the mountains and the Ottoman Turks began to extract tolls from any vessels passing. This they continued to do for around 400 years until the Austro-Hungarian Empire swallowed up Bosnia and Hercegovina in the 18th Century (an event which would lead indirectly to World War I when the Serb Activist Gavrilo Prinčip assassinated Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, thereby finishing the Hapsburg succession and tipping Europe into conflict).
Back in the 18th Century it merely meant that Počitelj ceased to be strategically important for the first time in centuries and slowly fell into decline whilst nearby Mostar grew in power. After World War I the region became part of Tito's Yugoslavia which it remained until the bloody breakup of the country in the early 1990s.
In 1993 the Croatian HVO, retreating from Mostar, arrived at Počitelj and destroyed many of the ancient monuments of the village, including the mosque and medresa. The Castle, up on it's hill, escaped most of the destruction but the HVO erected a massive wooden cross on it's rampart to signify their victory. This was torn down at the first opportunity but Poitelj was scarred forever.
The coach tours are starting to return and it can only be a matter of time before the Castle is opened to the public officially and life will return to this corner of a shattered country.
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Andrew J. Müller
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