Lower Neretva Valley - pictured from behind the walls of Počitelj, looking upstream towards Počitelj village and its Citadel, and further behinde Mostar

Lower Neretva Valley - pictured from behind the walls of Počitelj, looking upstream towards Počitelj village and its Citadel, and further behinde Mostar.

Neretva watershed highlighted in red
Etymology of Illyrian origin, from Indo-European base *ner-, *nor- "to dive, dip, immerse"
Country Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia
Main source Lebršnik and Zelengora Mountains, Dinaric Alps, Bosnia and Herzegovina
1,227 m (4,026 ft)
River mouth Adriatic Sea near Ploče, Croatia
0 m (0 ft)
Basin size 10,380 km2 (4,010 sq mi)
Physical characteristics
Length 230 km (140 mi)
  • Average rate:
    341 m3/s (12,000 cu ft/s)

Neretva (pronounced [nɛ̌rɛtʋa]; Latin: Narenta) is the largest river of the eastern part of the Adriatic basin. Four HE power-plants with large dams (higher than 15 metres)[1] provide flood protection, power and water storage. It is still recognized for its natural beauty and diversity of its landscape.[2]

Freshwater ecosystems have suffered from an increasing population and the associated development pressures. One of the most valuable natural resources of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia is its freshwater resource,[3] contained by an abundant wellspring and clear rivers.[3][4] Situated between the major regional rivers (Drina river on the east, Una river on the west and the Sava river) the Neretva basin contains the most significant[3] source of drinking water.

The Neretva is notable[5][6] among rivers of the Dinaric Alps region, especially regarding its diverse ecosystems and habitats, flora and fauna, cultural and historic heritage.[3][4]

Geography and hydrology

The Neretva river and its karstic rich fresh water aquifer.

The Neretva flows through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and is the largest karst river in the Dinaric Alps in the eastern part of the Adriatic basin/watershed. Its total length is 230 kilometres (143 miles), of which 208 kilometres (129 miles) are in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the final 22 kilometres (14 miles) are in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County of Croatia.[7]

The Neretva watershed is 10,380 square kilometres (4,010 sq mi) in total; in Bosnia and Herzegovina 10,110 square kilometres (3,900 sq mi) with the addition of the Trebišnjica river watershed and in Croatia, 280 square kilometres (110 sq mi). The average discharge at profile Žitomislići in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 233 cubic metres (8,200 cu ft)/s and at the mouth in Croatia is 341 cubic metres (12,000 cu ft)/s in addition to the Trebišnjica River's 402 cubic metres (14,200 cu ft)/s. The Trebišnjica River basin is included in the Neretva watershed due to a physical link of the two basins by the porous karst terrain.[7][8]

The hydrological parameters of Neretva are regularly monitored in Croatia at Metković.[9]


Geographically and hydrologically the Neretva is divided into three sections.[8]

Headwaters of the Neretva, just downstream of Ulog.

Its source and headwaters gorge are situated deep in the Dinaric Alps at the base of the Zelengora and Lebršnik mountains, under the Gredelj saddle. The river source is at 1,227 meters above sea level. The first section of the Neretva reaches to the town of Konjic; the Upper Neretva (Bosnian: Gornja Neretva), flows from south to north - north-west as do most Bosnia and Herzegovina rivers belonging to the Danube watershed, and covers some 1,390 square kilometres (540 sq mi) with an average elevation of 1.2%. Right below Konjic, the Neretva briefly expands into a wide valley which provides fertile agricultural land. The large Jablaničko Lake was artificially formed after construction of a dam near Jablanica.

The second section begins from the confluence of the Neretva and the Rama between Konjic and Jablanica where the Neretva suddenly takes a southern course. From Jablanica, the Neretva enters the largest canyons of its course, running through the steep slopes mountains of Prenj, Čvrsnica and Čabulja reaching 800–1,200 metres (2,625–3,937 feet) in depth. Three hydroelectric dams operate between Jablanica and Mostar. When the Neretva expands for the second and final time, it reaches its third section. This area is often called the Bosnian and Herzegovinian California. The last 30 kilometres (19 miles) form an alluvial delta, before the river empties into the Adriatic Sea.

Panoramic view River Neretva with village Lug near Jablanica, summer 2010.


Neretva River in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Rivers of the Jezernica (also known as the Tatinac), the Gornji and Donji Krupac, the Ljuta (also known as the Dindolka), the Jesenica, the Bjelimićka Rijeka, the Slatinica, the Račica, the Rakitnica, the Konjička Ljuta, the Trešanica, the Neretvica, the Rama, Doljanka, the Drežanka, the Grabovica, the Radobolja, and the Trebižat flow into the Neretva from the right, while the Jezernica, the Živašnica (also known as the Živanjski Potok), the Lađanica, the Župski Krupac, the Bukovica, the Šištica, the Konjička Bijela, the Idbar, the Glogošnica, the Mostarska Bijela, the Buna, the Bregava, and the Krupa flow into it from the left.

Towns and villages

Neretva River in Metković, Croatia.

Towns and villages on the Neretva include Ulog, Glavatičevo, Konjic, Čelebići, Ostrožac, Jablanica, Grabovica, Drežnica, Bijelo polje, Vrapčići, Mostar, Buna village, the historical town of Blagaj, Žitomislići, the historical village of Počitelj, Tasovčići, Čapljina, and Gabela in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Metković, Opuzen, Komin, Rogotin, and Ploče in Croatia. The biggest town on the Neretva River is Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Upper Neretva

Main article: Upper Neretva

The upper course of the Neretva river is simply called the Upper Neretva (Bosnian: Gornja Neretva). It includes numerous streams and well-springs, three major glacial lakes near the river and more lakes scattered across the mountains of Treskavica and Zelengora in the wider area, mountains, peaks and forests, flora and fauna of the area.

Upper Neretva Canyon, just downstream of Ulog village.

The Upper Neretva has water of Class I purity[10] and is almost certainly the coldest river water in the world, often as low as 7–8 degrees Celsius in the summer months.

Upper Neretva Valley, area of Glavatičevo village, upstream from Konjic.

Rising from the base of the Zelengora and Lebršnik Mountain, Neretva headwaters run in undisturbed rapids and waterfalls, carving steep gorges reaching 600–800 metres (2,000–2,600 ft) in depth.

Rakitnica River

Main article: Rakitnica

The Rakitnica is the main tributary of the first section (Bosnian: Gornja Neretva). The Rakitnica River forms a 26 km (16 miles) long canyon, out of its 32 km (20 miles) length, that stretches between Bjelašnica and Visočica to the southeast from Sarajevo.[11] From the canyon, a hiking trail along the ridge of the Rakitnica canyon drops 800 m below, to the famous village of Lukomir. The village is the only remaining traditional semi-nomadic Bosniak mountain village in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At almost 1,500 m, Lukomir features stone homes with cherry-wood roof tiles. It is the country's highest and most isolated mountain village. The village is inaccessible from the first snows in December until late April and sometimes even later, except by skis or on foot.

Hydroelectric Controversy

The benefits brought by hydroelectric dams have come at an environmental and social cost.[12][13]

The Neretva and two main tributaries are already harnessed by four Hydroelectric power-plants with large dams,[1] one with a major dam on the Rama tributary and another[1] on the Trebišnjica River.

In recent times the Republic of Srpska government finished the project named The Upper Horizons (Bosnian: Gornji horizonti), a large hydroelectric project that diverted underground waters in the Neretva watershed to the Trebišnjica plant and others in the Trebišnjica basin. This project was opposed by NGO's in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. They argued that the project would increase salinity levels of every surface and underground water on the right bank of the Neretva, damage internationally recognized Ramsar sites, a protected Nature Park Hutovo Blato in Bosnia and Herzegovina, protected Neretva Delta in Croatia, and important reservoirs of freshwater, plus agricultural lands in the lower Neretva valley.

Hydroelectric Power Plant Mostar, upstream from city of Mostar.

The government of the Bosnia and Herzegovina has unveiled plans to build three more hydroelectric power plants with dams over 150.5 metres in height[1] upstream from the existing plants, beginning with Glavaticevo Hydro Power Plant in the village of Glavatičevo, then going upstream to Bjelimići Hydro Power Plant and Ljubuča Hydro Power Plant located near the eponymous villages; and another, by Serbia, at the Neretva headwaters gorge, near the source of the river. It is similarly opposed by environmental organizations and NGO's, such as Zeleni-Neretva Konjic[14] and the World Wildlife Fund.[4][15][16][17][18]

Bosnia and Herzegovina is preparing a parallel plan to form a large national park to include the entire region of Gornja Neretva (English: Upper Neretva), and have within the park the three hydroelectric plants. The latest idea is that the park should be divided in two, where the Neretva should be excluded from both and would become the boundary between parks. Those who oppose the plan wish to have the area turned into the National Park of Upper Neretva and would leave the park without substantial development.[12][19][20]


Jablanica Lake and suspension bridge at Ostrožac village.

Jablanica lake is a large artificial lake on the Neretva river, right below Konjic where the Neretva expands into a wide valley. The river provided fertile, agricultural land before the lake flooded most of it. The lake was created in 1953 after construction of a large[1] gravitational hydroelectric dam near Jablanica in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. The lake has an irregular, elongated shape. Its width varies along its length. The lake is a popular vacation destination.


Downstream from the confluence of its tributaries, the Trebižat and Bregava Rivers, the valley spreads into an alluvial fan covering 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres). The upper valley, the 7,411 hectares in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is called Hutovo Blato.

The Neretva Delta has been recognised as a Ramsar site since 1992, and Hutovo Blato since 2001. Both areas form one integrated Ramsar site that is a natural entity divided by the state border.[2] The Important Bird Areas programme, conducted by Birdlife International, covers protected areas in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.[21]

Since 1995, Hutovo Blato has been protected as Hutovo Blato Nature Park[22][23] and managed by a public authority. The whole zone is protected from human impact and provides habitat for many plants and animals.[21] The historical site Old Fortress Hutovo Blato is in the Nature Park.

Gornje Blato-Deransko Lake is supplied by the karstic water sources of the Trebišnjica River, emerging from bordering hills. It is hydro-geologically connected to the Neretva River through its effluent, the Krupa River, formed out of five lakes (Škrka, Deranja, Jelim, Orah, Drijen). Large portions are permanently flooded and isolated by wide groves of reedbebds and trees. It represents a more interesting preserved area.[24]

The Krupa River is a Neretva left tributary and the main water current of Hutovo Blato, which carries the waters from Gornje Blato and Svitavsko Lake into the Neretva River. The length of Krupa is 9 km (6 miles) with an average depth of 5 metres (16 feet). The Krupa does not have a specific source, but is an arm of Deransko Lake. Also, the Krupa is a unique river in Europe, because it flows both ways. It flows both towards and back from its mouth. This happens when a high water level causes Neretva to push Krupa in the opposite direction.[25]

Cultivated slots and natural marshes of the complex Neretva Delta

Neretva Delta

Main article: Neretva Delta

Passing towns and villages in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Neretva spills out into the Adriatic Sea, building a wetland delta that is listed under the Ramsar Convention as internationally important.[15][21]

The mouth of the Neretva river near port-town of Ploče, Croatia.

In this lower valley in Croatia, the Neretva River splinters into multiple courses, creating a delta covering approximately 12,000 hectares. The delta in Croatia has been reduced by extensive land reclamation projects, reducing the river flows to just three branches from the original twelve. The marshes, lagoons and lakes that once dotted this plain have disappeared and only fragments of the old Mediterranean wetlands survive.[26] Wetlands, marshes and lagoons, lakes, beaches, rivers, hummocks (limestone hills) and mountains comprise the delta, with five protected areas with a total area of 1,620 ha. These are ornithological, ichthyologic and landscape reserves.[26]

Endemic and endangered species

Dinaric karst water systems support 25% of the total of 546 fish species in Europe, many endemic. The Neretva River, together with four other areas in the Mediterranean, has the largest number of threatened freshwater fish species.[27] The degree of endemism in the karst ecoregion is greater than 10%. Multiple fish species have small habitats and are vulnerable, so they are included on the Red List of endangered fish as of 2006. The Adriatic basin has 88 species of fish, of which 44 are Mediterranean endemic species, and 41 are Adriatic endemic species. More than half of the Adriatic river basin species of fish inhabit the Neretva, the Ombla, the Trebišnjica, the Morača Rivers and their tributaries, and more than 30 are endemic.[28]

Invasive species

Pike Perch (Croatian: Smuđ) (Sander lucioperca Linnaeus 1758)[29] (also see Sander (genus)) population in the Neretva River watershed was observed in 1990 for the first time. The Rama River, a right tributary of the Neretva, and its Rama Lake received an unknown quantity of this allochthonous species. Population estimates have increased in the Neretva accumulation lakes. This fact confirms previous scientific assumptions of Škrijelj (1991, 1995), who predicted the possibility of Pike Perch displacement (migration) from Ramsko Lake to the Rama River and then further downstream to the river and its lakes. In 1990 the Perch population made up 1.95% of the fish population in Rama Lake. Within a decade this rose to 25.42% in the nearby Jablaničko Lake.

The fast pace of Pike Perch population growth and displacements is expected to match the environmental conditions from the mid-ecological valence of this fish. In this sense, it is the established continuous and accelerated growth of the population dynamics of Pike Perch in Jablaničko Lake, a relatively good representation in Salakovačko Lake and the beginning of growth of population in Grabovičko Lake. Parallel with the increase in Pike Perch is a decrease in indigenous species like European chub also White Chub (Bosnian: Bijeli klijen) (Squalius cephalus), and the disappearance of rare and endemic species like Adriatic Dace also Balkan Dace (Bosnian: Strugač; Croatian: Sval) (Squalius svallize also Leuciscus svallize Heckel & Kner 1858), Neretvan Softmouth trout (Bosnian: Neretvanska mekousna pastrmka) (Salmothymus obtusirostris oxyrhinchus Steind.) and Marble trout (Bosnian: Glavatica also known as Bosnian: Gonjavac) (Salmo marmoratus Cuv.).

Pike Perch causes clearly visible, negative effects on the autochthonous species in Jablaničko Lake. In Salakovačko Lake these effects are in progress, although less visible, while in Grabovičko Lake it is not yet clearly visible.


Softmouth trout
Marble trout
Dentex trout

Salmonid fish from the Neretva basin show considerable variation in morphology, ecology and behaviour.[30][31]

Among most endangered are three endemic species of trout: Neretvan Softmouth trout (Bosnian: Neretvanska mekousna pastrmka) (Salmothymus obtusirostris oxyrhinchus Steind.),[32] Toothtrout (Bosnian: Zubatak, also Bosnian: Zubara) (Salmo dentex)[33] and Marble trout (Bosnian: Glavatica, also known as Bosnian: Gonjavac) (Salmo marmoratus Cuv.).[34]

All three endemic trout species of the Neretva are endangered, mostly due to the habitat destruction or construction of large/major dams ("large" is higher than 15–20 m; "major" is over 150–250 m).[1] Other problems include hybridization or genetic pollution with introduced, non-native trouts, illegal fishing and poor water and fisheries management.[35][36]


The most endangered cyprinids (Cyprinidae family) are endemic.

Especially interesting are five Phoxinellus (sub)species that inhabit isolated karstic plains (fields) of eastern as well as western Herzegovina in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which eventually reach the Neretva watershed and/or coastal drainages of south-eastern Dalmatia.


Neretvan Spined Loach (Bosnian: Neretvanski vijun) (Cobitis narentana Karaman, 1928) is an Adriatic watershed endemic that inhabits a narrow area of the Neretva watershed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina [45] In Bosnia and Herzegovina it inhabits only the lower Neretva and its smaller tributaries like the Matica River. In Croatia it is a strictly protected species and inhabits only the Neretva delta and its smaller tributaries, the (Norin) and lake systems of the Neretva delta (Baćina lakes, Kuti, Desne, Modro oko).[45] It is considered Vulnerable (VU).

Neretva delta endemics

The Neretva delta hosts more than 20 endemic species, of which 18 are endemic to the Adriatic watershed, along with three endemic species in Croatia. Nearly half (45%) of the total number of species that inhabit this area are included in one of the categories of threat and are mainly endemic.[28]

Cultural and Historical significance

Old stone pedestrian bridge in Konjic.

Early history

During antiquity, the Neretva was known as Narenta, Narona and Naro(n),[46][47][48] and was the inland[49] home to the ancient Illyrian tribe of Ardiaei. They became ship builders, seafarers and fishermen. Archaeological discoveries of Illyrian culture dealt both with daily and religious life such as the discovery of ancient Illyrian shipwrecks found in Hutovo Blato, in the vicinity of the Neretva River.[50]

After intense excavations in the area of Hutovo Blato in the autumn of 2008, archaeologists from Bosnia and Herzegovina University of Mostar and Norway University of Lund found traces of an Illyrian trading post that was more than two thousand years old. The find is unique in a European perspective and archaeologists have concluded that Desilo, as the location is called, was an important trading post of great significance for contact between the Illyrians and the Romans. Archaeological finds include the ruins of a settlement, the remains of a harbour that probably functioned as a trading post, as well as many sunken boats, fully laden with wine pitchers – so-called amphorae – from the 1st century BC.[51] Archaeologist Adam Lindhagen claimed that it was the most important Illyrian ruin.[52][53]

Roman period

One of the most significant monuments of Roman times in Bosnia and Herzegovina is Mogorjelo. Located 1 kilometer south of the town of Čapljina, Mogorjelo remnants of the old Roman suburban Villa Rustica from the 4th century represents ancient Roman agricultural production and estate, mills, bakeries, olive oil refinery and forges.[54] The Villa was destroyed in the middle of the 4th century, during the invasion of western Goths. Surviving residents did not restore it to its original splendor. The name of Mogorjelo is thought to be derived either from the Slavic word for "burn" (Slavic – goriti) or that at the end of the 5th century the church was built on the ruins of the Villa, and was dedicated to St. Hermagor – Mogoru.[55]

Middle Ages

In the Early Middle Ages, the South Slavic Narentines held the region. They were known for piracy and resisted Christianization until they were defeated by the Venetians, and then the Byzantines, at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries.

Gabela is a rich archaeological site on the Neretva bank, situated 5 km (3 miles) south of Čapljina. Along with notable medieval buildings, remains of Old City walls, and a sculpture of a stone lion – a symbol of Venetian culture survived. For its remarkable geostrategic position, Gabela was linked to Homer's most famous work – the Iliad.

Ottoman period

Stari Most (Old Bridge), 16th century, Mostar

The Old Bridge was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1557 to replace an older wooden suspension bridge. Construction began in 1557 and took nine years: according to the inscription the bridge was completed in 974 AH, corresponding to the period between 19 July 1566 and 7 July 1567. Memories and legends and the name of the builder, Mimar Hayruddin (student of the Old/Great Sinan (Mimar Sinan / Koca Sinan), the Ottoman architect) were preserved in writing. Charged under pain of death to construct a bridge of such unprecedented dimensions, the architect reportedly prepared for his own funeral on the day the scaffolding was finally removed from the completed structure. Upon its completion it was the widest man-made arch in the world. Associated technical issues remain obscure: how the scaffolding was erected, how the stone was transported from one bank to the other, and how the scaffolding was maintained during construction. On 9 November 1993, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina it was destroyed by Croatian HVO by sustained artillery shelling, in an attempt to erase any sign of Ottoman architecture in Bosnia.[56] After the war, immediate plans were raised to reconstruct the bridge as a symbol of peace and ethnic harmony, literally bridging the two sides of the conflict. They attempted to reuse as much original material as possible. Salvage operations, funded by the international community, raised the stones and the remains of the bridge from the river bed. Missing elements or parts that were not usable were cut from the original quarry. Now listed as a World Heritage Site, the bridge was rebuilt under the aegis of UNESCO. Its 1,088 stones were shaped according to the original techniques, at a cost of about €12 million. The grand opening was held on 23 July 2004.

Fortified Počitelj looking downstream the Neretva

It is traditional for the town's young men to leap from the 24 metres (79 ft) bridge into the Neretva. The practice dates back to 1566, the time the bridge was built, and an event was held every summer in front of population. The first recorded instance of someone diving off the bridge is from 1664. In 1968 a formal diving competition was inaugurated and held every summer.[57]

Počitelj is situated on a hill near Mostar and is easily accessible by bus. As with many other Bosnian sites, this town is Ottoman in design. It is a historic fortified town with a hostel (caravanserai) and a hamam beneath. A traditional mosque is there. During the Bosnian War Počitelj was badly damaged and most of its residents fled and never returned[58]

World War II: Battle of the Neretva

Famous bridge, focal point of the Battle of Neretva

The famous Battle of Neretva is a 1969 Oscar-nominated motion picture depicting events from the Second World War and the actual Battle of the Neretva.[59] Codenamed Fall Weiß, the operation was a German plan for a combined attack launched in early 1943 against Yugoslav Partisans throughout occupied Yugoslavia. The offensive took place between January and April 1943. The operation used to be known, in socialist Yugoslav times, as the Fourth Enemy Offensive, or as the Battle for the Wounded.

At one point during the battle, the Partisans were caught in a pocket with their back to the Neretva River. Near Jablanica, 20,000 Partisans under command of Marshal Josip Broz Tito struggled to save some 4500 wounded comrades and typhus patients together with the Supreme Headquarters and Main Hospital, against some 150,000 Axis combatants.[60]


See also


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  40. Crivelli, A.J. (2006). "Chondrostoma knerii". 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 2009-07-16. External link in |publisher= (help)
  41. "(Squalius svallize also Leuciscus svallize)". Fishbase. Retrieved 2009-07-16. External link in |publisher= (help)
  42. "Ilirski klijen (Squalius illyricus)". Fishbase. Retrieved 2009-07-16. External link in |publisher= (help)
  43. "Turkish chub (Leuciscus turskyi)". Fishbase. Retrieved 2009-07-16. External link in |publisher= (help)
  44. "Dalmatian Barbelgudgeon (Aulopyge hugeli)". Fishbase. Retrieved 2009-07-16. External link in |publisher= (help)
  45. 1 2 Mrakovčić 2006.
  46. Archeological Museum of Narona
  47. The Ancient City of Narona
  48. Neven Kazazovic, Tajne Neretve
  49. Appian and Illyricum by Marjeta Šašel Kos," The Ardiaei were certainly also settled in the hinterland, along the Naro River at least as far as the Konjic region,"
  50. Illyria
  51. "Bosnian archaeologists discover fabled ships". Retrieved 2009-03-17. External link in |publisher= (help)
  52. "The world's first Illyrian trading post found". Apollon - University of Oslo. Retrieved 2009-03-17. External link in |publisher= (help)
  53. "Unique Archaeological Discovery In Balkan: World's First Illyrian Trading Post Found". Science Daily. Retrieved 2009-03-17. External link in |publisher= (help)
  54. Mogorjelo on the Vine route of Herzegovina
  55. Čapljina municipality - Mogorjelo Archived 11 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  56. "ICTY: Prlić et al. (IT-04-74)". Archived from the original on 2 August 2009.
  57. Diving Club Mostar Archived 12 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  58. World Heritage Sites in Bosnia Herzegovina Archived 23 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  59. Neretva at the Internet Movie Database
  60. Operation WEISS - The Battle of Neretva
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Coordinates: 43°28′37″N 17°48′54″E / 43.47694°N 17.81500°E / 43.47694; 17.81500

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