The Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series made an eighth visit to the beautiful and historic Mostar in 2023. The city’s 16th-century bridge, Stari Most, once again hosted the elite cliff divers as they demonstrated ultimate courage, control and some insane athleticism over the emerald water of the Neretva River.
At the same time, this was the 8th time for me as I have been in Mostar since the very beginning of the Red Bull Cliff Diving. I am always happy to return to Mostar because this is one of those events that definitely has its own soul and spirit. In all previous years, you will always find at least one story about Red Bull Cliff Diving in Mostar in my blog post.
Every year I come with a new challenge because the location is very specific and small with almost all the places from which I have already photographed, so it is not easy to find new and different angles.
As in the past few years, I try to make the diversity of my photography capturing. For that reason, the first day I am always with the camera in the hunt of new and different angles, on the second day I photograph from the water with the camera in an underwater housing and on the third day I am doing combination of a drone and several different lenses that I change on my regular camera.
I certainly always return to Mostar and the tradition of my photography there continues!
Tracing the History of Mostar’s Bridge Diving Tradition
Situated in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, the city of Mostar boasts a unique tradition that has captivated both locals and tourists alike for generations: bridge diving. The famous Mostar Bridge, also known as Stari Most (‘Old Bridge’) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, forms the scenic setting for a yearly competition that originated centuries ago.
Here’s all you need to know about Mostar’s bridge diving legacy:
The history of bridge diving in Mostar dates back to the 17th century, nearly a hundred years after the Ottomans completed the construction of Stari Most. The earliest account of young men leaping from the 27 metres-high humpback bridge into the Neretva River was documented in 1664.
Mehmed Zilli, an Ottoman explorer and writer also known with the name of Evliya Çelebi, writes in his ‘Book of Travel’: “Many brave children of the city jump from the bridge into the river. They fly like birds. Each of them falls into the water, performing some kind of tricks. Some jump into the water, some upside down, some cross-legged, and some embracing each other – stepping aside at once, climbing up the rocks, and coming to the bridgehead.”
These first divers were known as Mostari (‘bridge-keepers’), and their daring feats quickly became a testament to their courage and valor. Jumping off the bridge was a rite of passage that the young men of Mostar were called to face, and the experience marked the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
The practice required immense skill, as divers had to calculate the precise angle and timing of their leaps to avoid injury. The dives were initially informal and competitive, with young men vying for the admiration of their peers, and the honor of being recognised by the community at large as the most undaunted diver in the city.
Among the renowned and challenging diving styles is the traditional ‘swallow dive.’ In this maneuver, divers begin by fully extending their bodies into a streamlined position. With arms initially extended forward and then swept to the sides, resembling wings, and their legs held closely together, the diver enters the water head-first. The goal is to execute a smooth and graceful motion reminiscent of a swallow’s flight through the air.
Over the centuries, diving off Mostar’s bridge has transformed into a professional sport, attracting athletes from around the world. The city has hosted an official annual competition since 1968, an enduring summer tradition that gained widespread popularity. However, the competition faced a temporary suspension during the Bosnian War, in the 1990s, when the bridge was destroyed. The event later resumed following the reconstruction of Stari Most in 2004.
Bridge diving in Mostar then evolved to embody the values of fearlessness, community pride, and tolerance. The dives symbolise the resilience of the Mostar people, who have endured centuries of hardship and conflict, spanning from the Ottoman era to the First World War and culminating in the Bosnian War. Divers are esteemed for their bravery, and their performances serve as a unifying force in a city with a complex history of ethnic tensions.
Since 2015, Mostar has been included as one of the stops on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, showcasing the world’s top high divers against the backdrop of this iconic location.
The Mostar stop of the 2023 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series brought forth a series of surprising victories on Saturday, September 9. In the women’s category, Molly Carlson of Canada clinched her second win of the season, thwarting Rhiannan Iffland‘s bid to defend her title. Meanwhile, in the men’s category, the emergence of a rising star was witnessed as Spanish wildcard Carlos Gimeno claimed the top spot on the podium.