A bridge against the war: Stari Most.

The city of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known for its 16th century bridge (Stari Most), after which it is named, was sadly brought to the public’s attention during the 90s due to the horrors of the Croat-Bosniak war that followed the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Amidst the destruction of most of the modern and historic city and the absurd number of victims, even the landmark of the city was destroyed.

Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman bridge, one of the most important pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans, the most recognizable landmark of Mostar and the connection between the two parts of the city across the river Neretva, was destroyed on November 9th 1993, after standing for 427 years.

In October 1998, UNESCO established an international scientific committee to help the reconstruction of the bridge, assuring a design as similar as possible to the original and the use of authentic technology and materials. The new bridge was finally inaugurated in July 2004. Many of the historical buildings in the Old Town were also restored or totally rebuilt. Several countries helped funding the reconstruction of the bridge.

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Plaque reporting the fundings provided by different countries to help reconstuct the bridge.

Nowadays, the Old Bridge Area of Mostar is a vibrant, tourist place and market. There are many restaurants, souvenir shops and it’s generally a nice place where to spend a few hours and learn about the history of the city.

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Stari Most seen from the western banks of Neretva river.
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Walking through the market in the Old Bridge Area.
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One of the many small mosques around the city.
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Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge), a small version of the better known Stari Most.
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Night view of the Old Brigde Area, the Kriva Cuprija (Crooked Bridge) in the centre.
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A local artisan crafting bracelets and other beautiful bronze and copper objects.
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The western side of the Old city and the bridge.
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Looking east, from the highest point on Stari Most.
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Stari Most at night.

Local men have a particular way of making some money and entertain the tourists: diving from the bridge into the river. One of them will stand for a while at the highest point of the bridge (24m high) in swimming trunks. Others walk aroung asking for a small tip from the people gathered on and around the bridge, until they decide the money they’ve collected is worth the jump and the one on the bridge will perform a spectacular dive into the river. It’s such a show that basically everybody stops doing what they are doing to watch it. Something not to be missed in Mostar.

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Local youngsters ready to jump from the bridge for a small fee.
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Ready to jump in 3…2…1…
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A local fisherman and some teenagers jumping from a platform into the Neretva river, training to jump from Stari Most.

A few other things worth visiting in the Old Bridge Area are Koski Mehmed-Pasha mosque where it is possible, and higly advisable, to climb the minaret of the mosque to get the best view of the bridge.

And a couple of well preserved ottoman houses, Muslibegovic House and Biscevic House. I visited the latter.

Outside of the Old Town, the atmosphere is completely different though. The horrors of the war strike back and the scars left by years of conflict became clearly visible. The city of Mostar bears numerous marks left by the war in the form of destroyed and abandoned buildings and cemeteries everywhere. Countless buildings still show the effects of the bombs and the bullets. I noticed how the ground floor was often restored while the walls of the higher floors are still full of holes.

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The holes on this building were made by bullets and bomb shrapnel. Something quite disturbing.
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Another building scarred by the bombs.
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Everywhere in the city heavily damaged buildings are a reminder of the horrors of the war.

Some buildings look like they used to be beautiful and important and now are nothing more than an empty skeleton. Others are covered in vegetation and some are nothing more than a standing facade.

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One of the numerous building destroyed during the war.
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Another beautiful historical building left in this state by the bombs, as if it is a reminder of the war.
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It is even possible to see through the building.

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Cemeteries are everywhere in Mostar. This one, quite big, occupies a patch of land next to the National Theatre (the massive building on the right). On the left are the remainings of another historical building.

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This plaque is found on a wall of Mostar National Theatre. It was damaged by bombs and bullets.

Due to the lack of space, people were buried everywhere there was a little free space. Because of this, cemeteries cover almost any green area in the city. What was really shocking is the dates on the stones. Almost all of them report 1993 as the year of the death.

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This is something that really struck me. Most of the headstones in the many cemeteries around the city of Mostar are dated 1993. People were buried wherever there was little room in the city because the cemeteries filled up quickly. It’s shocking to see how many people died in one year, in one single city. I covered the names.

Some of the more modern bombed buildings now are just a bunch of rubble and are used to dump garbage or are occupied by people who have nowhere else to go.

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This building impressed me. I don’t know what it was used for. It looks like it may have been a shopping mall but only the external, obviously damaged and higly unstable, structure is left. It is now occupied by squatters.
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What’s left of the ground floor of the building in now covered in graffiti.
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9th of November 1993 (in the notation day-month-year). On this day, Stari Most, one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks was destroyed after it stood for 427 years.

Thanks to the efforts of UNESCO and all those that helped, Mostar and its people got back their bridge that represents a remarkable symbol of peace, cooperation and solidarity, as expressed well on the dedicated page on the UNESCO World Heritage Convention Website (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/946):

“With the “renaissance” of the Old Bridge and its surroundings, the symbolic power and meaning of the City of Mostar – as an exceptional and universal symbol of coexistence of communities from diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds – has been reinforced and strengthened, underlining the unlimited efforts of human solidarity for peace and powerful cooperation in the face of overwhelming catastrophes.”

and

“The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar are symbols of reconciliation, international cooperation and the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.”

The official name of the World Heritage Site is Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar.

theunescochallenge

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