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Bridge over troubled waters

by Capt. Bente Ravn

First published in SFOR Informer #11, May 28, 1997

Photo 1T.JPG (14609 bytes)Mostar - The war in Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) caused much pain and destruction. Many people lost family, friends, and homes and some cities became divided. One of the best known of these is Mostar, the largest city in Hercegovina with 109,000 inhabitants. In 1522 Mostar became the headquarters of the Ottoman administration of Hercegovina. Many military missions against Venetian cities were launched from the city, which came under Austrian control from 1878-1918, and then became part of Yugoslavia. Today it is a part of BiH.

According to a pre-war consensus, Mostar’s population consisted of 20 % Bosnian-Serbs, 40 % Bosniacs and 40 % Bosnian-Croats. There are practically no longer any Bosnian-Serbs in the city, they are living in the mountains south and east of the city. Bosniacs, make up 55 % of the city’s inhabitants live east of the river. Bosnian-Croats make up the remaining 45 %, and live on the west side of the Neretva.

Mostar has a story to tell. It is the story of the Old Bridge, an elegant single span arch built over the river Neretva by the Ottoman Turks. Mostar is an old city, established in the 15th century when a small settlement began to form around an old Roman wooden bridge over the Neretva river, but the name Mostar comes from the old white limestone bridge Stari Most (most means bridge, and stari means old - hence Mostar) which was finished in 1566 after nine years construction for the Ottoman emperor Sultan Sleiman the Magnificent. The master builder was a Turkish engineer, Hayruddin. He was a student of a great builder, Mimar Sinan, who built the bridge over the River Drina in Višegrad.

The bridge was also called the ‘Fossilised Crescent’ and was generally regarded a masterpiece ofphoto2T.JPG (10454 bytes) Turkish building technique and elegance. The story goes that the Sultan swore to execute the engineer if this bridge, like previous attempts, collapsed. Not feeling too confident about the success of his project, Hayruddin took to his heels on the day the supports were to be removed. He was eventually found digging his own grave, but the news was not what he expected - the bridge stood and for 429 years the Stari Most stood as a reminder of his excellent engineering.

On November 9, 1993, during bitter civil war in the city, the bridge was shelled by a Bosnian Croat tank from Mt. Hum. One of its last roles had been to allow Muslim defenders of the "left bank" cross the river and take supplies to their supporters and the population that had remained there. It withstood many centuries, but it could not survive this concentrated effort to demolish it. After several direct hits, this magnificent piece of history crashed into the waters below.

Today the bridge has been replaced by a temporary steel construction which allows river crossing for pedestrians but can in no way measure up to the original structure.

[The Old Mostar Bridge Project]