An Iconic Bridge Is Restored as a Symbol of Hope and Reconciliation

July 23, 2004

In the city of Mostar in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a celebration was held to commemorate the opening of a rebuilt version of a centuries-old bridge crossing the river Neretva. (Mostar is 45 miles, or 72.4 kilometers, southwest of Sarajevo.)

The festivities for the rebuilt Mostar Bridge (also known as “Stari Most,” the Bosnian phrase for “Old Bridge”) took place more than a decade after the original version of this structure had been destroyed during the Croat-Bosniak War. This bloody conflict, which was part of the larger Bosnian War, was waged between the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (direct legal predecessor to the present-day country of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia.

In reporting on the debut of the reconstructed Mostar Bridge in 2004, the Associated Press (AP) highlighted how the previous version of this structure “became a symbol of the senseless brutality of Bosnia’s war when shells destroyed it in 1993.” The AP story also noted, “The reconstruction of the stone span – which had survived centuries of conflict, including two world wars, before it was shattered – raised hopes that the war-wrecked nation could rebuild a multi-ethnic society.”

The original Mostar Bridge was commissioned in 1557 by the long-reigning Ottoman Empire sultan Suleiman I, who is widely known today as Suleiman the Magnificent. He commissioned the bridge to replace a precarious one that, in the words of 17th-century geographer Muṣṭafa ibn ‘Abd Allāh, “was made of wood and hung on chains” and “swayed so much that people crossing it did so in mortal fear.”

The cost for building a sturdier bridge was reportedly 300,000 drams (silver coins), designed by architect Mimar Hayruddin. He had been an apprentice of Mimar Sinan, a leading architect and civil engineer of the era who was responsible for the building of hundreds of structures within the Ottoman Empire. While Hayruddin designed the new bridge over the river Neretva, it was Sultan Suleiman’s son-in-law Karagoz Mehmet Bey who supervised the construction project itself.

When completed, the stone bridge earned widespread acclaim for its impressive height of nearly 66 feet (20 meters). The 17th-century travel writer Evliya Çelebi proclaimed that “the bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other . . . I have never seen such a high bridge.” Over time, the bridge further established itself not only as a popular local landmark but also as a key example of Balkan Islamic architecture.

Construction on a new bridge began four years after the previous one had been destroyed. A great deal of the money for this project was donated by the United States, Croatia, Turkey, Italy, and the Netherlands. Numerous organizations and individuals across the globe also contributed funds.

Those on hand to witness the 2004 opening of the current Mostar Bridge included Prince Charles of England, actor John Cleese (of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” fame), and over 200 other dignitaries from 52 international delegations. As part of that Friday’s celebration, brass bands from both Croatia and Turkey performed for those in attendance. British politician and diplomat Paddy Ashdown, who played a major peacekeeping role in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the war, said that the opening of the new bridge could mark “the moment when hope for the future of this country became stronger than the fear of the past.”

For more information on the current Mostar Bridge and its predecessor, please check out http://www.mostarbridge.org/starimost/00_main/main.htm.

Additional information on bridges in Bosnia and Herzegovina is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bridges_in_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina.

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