The surrounding fields are bucolic enough, like many green pastures around many old fortresses. There is an abandoned bar on the road below the castle, an old sign on the roof is painted luridly with women in lingerie. A man chopped wood nearby, his young children kicked a soccer ball. It made us think, in some ways, about the periods of peace and warfare that every castle went through. In so much of Europe, that peace has extended now into a kind of permanence that belies millennia of turbulence. Here in Bosnia, the very quiet - an evening calm, with soft light and chirping insects - seemed to clang against recent violence.
The first surprise is the sculpture garden in the grounds. There are some two dozen (maybe more) large carvings, all probably done by one artist who liked to experiment with styles. Some of the pieces are better than others, none have any information by them, none of it seems to be maintained. In fact, the whole castle is wild feeling and, in all practical terms, unattended - though the grass had been cut sometime recently.
At Ostrožac, we were free to wander everywhere - on the narrow battlements, on the very tops of the walls, into the unmarked bowels of the keep. We clambered and climbed and pleaded with one another to be careful. It's not for the faint of heart, but the views and experience are both worth the danger.
Sometimes, we find castles like this. But nothing we've visited has been like the residence part of Ostrožac.
There isn't much grandeur left. This probably wasn't the hardest hit section of the complex during the most recent conflict, but the lighter-weight construction didn't hold up well against bombardment. The walls were better for graffiti, the floors easily rotted, glass windows broke. The centuries have treated the stone walls outside better, the old keep still holds its squat shape - this newer part looks like it has been part of a war. One can still see the remnants of the older walls where the newer material has fallen away, the original framework of the building set in stone.
It's almost impossible to tell exactly what kind of fighting went on here, but that's nothing unusual - the marks of war are just more recent than in other castles, but the stories are similarly cloudy. The 1990's were a while ago now, most people here don't like to recount what happened or where.
Ostrožac is a great castle to visit, perhaps the most whole and impressive in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It's remote, of course, in a far-flung part of the country that is deeply cut by river gorges; the going is slow around here, the roads twist and follow old topographical curves. But, to find this castle in the pine forests and cornfields is to find a place that feels immediately powerful and multi-faceted. The older walls are fun in themselves, the sculpture gardens add a bit of intrigue and interest, the marks of recent conflict make it unique. The landscape is beautiful too, with little towns and minarets outlined in the distant hillsides and thick forests below. We left feeling as though we'd explored something unlike anything else we'd seen - a place that felt as recently used as it did old and deserted, as though a wave of something ancient had just passed through before us.