Photoshooting the Red Bull Cliff Diving series is always somewhat unique and special. Adding the location to that, already spectacular competition, that has huge historical background when we refer to high diving, then the photographic challenge is even bigger. As you may have guessed by now, Mostar and amazing Old Bridge were the hosts of this stop of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Almost every place in the world has its symbol of recognition and just like the Old Bridge is symbol of Mostar so are the high divings inextricably linked to the Old Bridge.
This Bosnian-Herzegovinian town that has lived life for centuries on the bridge it is named after, one of the most famous in the world, after nearly fifty years of bridge diving competitions, has awaited the arrival of the world’s elite divers to join local legends.
That which is cricket in England, ice hockey in Canada and sumo wrestling in Japan, is the equivalent to high diving in Mostar. This city in Bosnia & Herzegovina, located roughly halfway between the airports of Sarajevo and Dubrovnik, is known worldwide for its Old Bridge, built in 1566 and included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The bridge, often cited as one of the most beautiful in the world, is known in the Balkans for its diving competition, which has represented one of the top attractions of the former Yugoslavia, every July since 1968.
Since it was built, the bridge has been the centre of the urban development of Mostar and the point around which city revolved in the city. And the city itself was actually named after the bridge keepers – “mostari”. It was erected over the course of nine years by Ottoman architect Mimar Hajruddin. Legend has it that the architect never saw his work completed: he left before the scaffolding was removed, not possessing the strength to see if the bridge would stand – with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent having threatened to have him beheaded if the bridge fell. Just as the Old Bridge is the symbol of Mostar, so diving is inextricably linked to the bridge. People have always jumped from this bridge, from the moment it was built. Turkish travel writer Evliya Çelebi noted in Mostar in 1664 that he had watched many brave children “… run and jump from the bridge, dropping down to the river and flying through the air like birds, making each of them a special kind of acrobat”.
Leaping from Mostar’s Old Bridge is a test of maturity, a test of courage, a way for young men to enter the world of adulthood. Boys first train at low heights, jumping from the rocks and caves under the Old Bridge, slowly advancing towards their goal: diving from the bridge.
Formal diving competitions from the Old Bridge, established less than fifty years ago, take place in two disciplines: diving headfirst and feet-first, with each discipline having its own subcategories. The most recognisable is the elegant Mostar “swallow dive”, an headfirst dive authentic to Mostar that resembles the flight of swallows.
In addition to the traditional competition, diving is today also a form of entertainment for tourists and a source of income for younger divers. As a rule, the scene unfolds whereby the diver, once he has gathered enough money, leaps from the bridge and flies in the Mostar style towards the cold waters of the River Neretva, accompanied by cheers and snapping cameras. It is estimated that around a million tourists visit the bridge annually.
The relationship between Mostar locals and the bridge, and the love they feel for it, is something special and totally unexpected. For them, the bridge almost has the status of a living being. Walking through the city, you won’t be able to help but notice the tattoos of the bridge on the bodies of a large number of people.
The bridge was destroyed in 1993 during the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina, then later faithfully reconstructed using original stone blocks recovered from the river below. However, even during the time between destruction and reconstruction, Mostar residents still leapt from the temporary bridge and scaffolding. The reconstructed bridge was opened in 2004.
That same year when the reconstructed bridge opened, Mostar welcomed for the first time a man whose name demands enormous respect in the world of high diving: Orlando Duque, a legend in rock diving and cliff diving, and winner of 13 world titles. It was love at first sight: the people of Mostar were in adoration of his acrobatic dives, while the Colombian felt the same about the bridge and centurieslong tradition of diving.
Following him, other divers also arrived, and last month, for the first time, Mostar hosted a competition in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. This championship lasts throughout the entire season and brings together the world’s best high divers.
Cliff diving is a truly extreme leap: competitors dive from a height of 26.5 to 28 metres, without protection, relying on their own skill and concentration. It has experienced rapid expansion in recent years. Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series competitions are held in the most attractive and most exotic locations around the world, in natural and urban environments, on magnificent stone cliffs and iconic historical buildings. The Cliff Diving series has so far toured 25 countries on four continents.
The tradition of diving from the Old Bridge dates back four and a half centuries. A fascinating location and the irresistible beauty of Mostar were the decisive factors leading to the decision for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series to come to Bosnia & Herzegovina, which elicited huge excitement in Mostar. The world’s best divers came to this mythical place of leaping into the water, in front of a passionate crowd that loves and knows diving.
An additional platform was erected on the Old Bridge, in order to achieve a height of 28 metres, from which divers demonstrated their skill and courage, performing breathtaking aerial acrobatics. The beach below the Old Bridge was packed and the vantage points to watch from were beyond selection: there were spectators in rowing boats, on rocks, on restaurant terraces and the balconies of houses, the towers beside the bridge, even on the chimneys!
In a spectacular show of the first competition of Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series held in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the first career victory was taken by Mexican Jonathan Paredes, who had celebrated his 26th birthday a day earlier. The favourite of the local public, Orlando Duque, did not find his way onto the podium. Nevertheless, all divers were welcomed and sent on their way to thunderous applause, with a desire to be seen again soon, as it seems this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.