Stari Most – Old Bridge of Mostar
The Old Bridge of Mostar was commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent in 1557 and completed in 1566; at the time, it was the widest man-made arch in the world. It’s the centerpiece of Mostar and was one of the focal points during the 1993 nine-month siege and battle of the town of Mostar. The bridge is a truly beautiful piece of engineering and art and spans the Neretva River more than 90 feet above the water. But the Old Bridge (Stari Most) represents much more than an easy way to cross the river. During the Balkan War, in 1993, the town of Mostar was under constant siege by the Croatian Army from high above the town on the western mountains overlooking the city. The eastern half of the city is primarily Muslim as evinced by the many minarets reaching for the sky, while the western half of the city is Orthodox or Christian. The Old Bridge allowed the Muslim forces to resupply the front line just across the river while bringing back the wounded for treatment in the somewhat safer east side. While the river is not the dividing line between Muslim and Christian, for argument’s sake it is, with only a small sliver west the river and east of the main road (Kralija Tomislava) also inhabited generally by Muslims. It only takes a 20 minute drive up the hill out of town to see the vantage points from which the Croats could bomb and shoot the daylights out of the eastern part of town, and the Old Bridge of Mostar was right in their sights.
Destruction and Rebirth of the Old Bridge of Mostar
During the 1993 seige of Mostar, the Old Bridge of Mostar was relentlessly shelled by Croat forces. It was finally toppled after months of bombing on November 9, 1993. It cut off most of the east (Muslim) side of the town, from the front lines and made it difficult for the Muslims to continue to hold off the Croatian forces. After the war, the World Bank and UNESCO, with the help of many organizations, eventually rebuilt the bridge, using original techniques and some original stones retrieved form the river by Hungarian divers, which reopened on July 23, 2004.
Old Bridge of Mostar – Heart of the City
On arriving in Mostar and getting settled at our hotel, we walked the two or three blocks to the Old Town and the historic center, the centerpiece of which is the Old Bridge. At first glance, it’s hard to tell the bridge has had such a difficult history. Many of the buildings and the bridge itself have been rebuilt in such a way as to nearly eradicate all evidence of the 1993 siege. Some of the buildings and the museum betray the attempt to erase all evidence of the war, so there is plenty in Mostar to remind us of the destruction.
The Stari Most is an amazing connection for both sides of the Old Town and does a wonderful job of connecting both parts. It is a masterpiece in and of itself; it provides incredible vantage points from which to view the Neretva River and both sides of the Old Town and historic buildings, while also providing a focal point for excellent photos of Mostar form nearly every location along the river. Both day and night, the Bridge makes its presence known and seems to be the heartbeat of the town.
The Old Bridge also serves as a platform (literally and figuratively) for the famous Stari Most bridge jumpers and diver. These brave and highly skilled men jump from 90 feet, the top of the bridge, into the chilly but blue river below. What began centuries ago as a rite of passage and a Muslim tradition, is now mostly a tourist attraction, but impressive nonetheless. For 480 years, there has been an annual diving competition from the bridge in July that attracts divers and spectators from around the world.
It was a truly humbling experience to be sitting in view of the bridge at a cafe near sunset with the call to prayer emanating from the minarets that populate the skyline, while watching a diver fall the 90 feet to the river. This bridge has seen a lot of history and we were humbled to be able to visit it.