Mostar, on the banks of the mighty Neretva River, is the largest city in what is today Herzegovina. The town grew in importance during centuries of Ottoman rule from 1482 to 1878, when many beautiful and significant Islamic structures were built including the Kara Ozbegora Mosque (below). The town is most famous for its bridge however, which was heralded as a classic example of Ottoman design and became a world-recognised symbol during the Bosnian war.
The story goes that after a number of failed bridges, the Ottoman Sultan vowed to execute the engineer Mimar Hayruddin if his bridge collapsed too. The day the bridge’s wooden supports were due to be removed in 1566, Hayruddin had already begun to dig his own grave when he found out the bridge had survived. It would in fact stand for a further 429 years, through Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule, as well as two world wars.
A symbol of friendship
The bridge, which connected Muslim communities in the east with Christian communities in the west, had come to symbolise the multi-ethnicity of Bosnia, so when it was destroyed by tank fire in 1993 during the bitter civil war, this was an incredibly sad moment for the locals.
New bridge, new hope
After the war, the bridge was rebuilt, using many of the same limestone blocks that were salvaged from the river. The reopening of the bridge by Prince Charles in 2004 was symbolic and a sign that life was slowly returning to normal, as well as being testament to the courage and persistence of the city’s inhabitants. UNESCO added the bridge to their World Heritage list in 2005, saying “The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.”
Today Mostar is well worth a visit. The Ottoman quarter has been sympathetically restored, and there are a number of artesan shops and pretty cafes. Remnants of the 90’s conflict are also visible in dilapidated buildings and with its Viennese style architecture evidencing the Austro-Hungarian rule,
Mostar Bridge is just one of many highlights on our Into the Balkans group tour, which takes in Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.