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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.