Bridge Keeper

"It is not enough to cleanse Mostar of the Muslims," said a Croat militiaman as his unit worked to destroy the bridge; "the relics must also be destroyed."[1] On November 9, 1993, in a final barrage, the sixteenth-century bridge, which had withstood months of shelling, collapsed into the Neretva River.

Mostar takes its name from its magnificent old bridge. Under Ottoman patronage, Mostar became a major cultural and economic center in the sixteenth century. The Ottomans built bridges, inns, marketplaces, and mosques. By 1987 the old city had been reconstructed and Mostar was an important tourist site. The city was filled with architectural masterworks like the sixteenth-century Karadjoz Beg Mosque.[2] Its skyline was dominated by an Orthodox church, a Catholic bell tower, and a Muslim minaret, testimony to centuries of living among three religious groups.[3]

At the center of Mostar was the "old bridge" (stari most ), its high-arched, dizzying vault gracefully linking the two sides of the city. The bridge, which dated from 1561, had been designed by Hayruddin, a pupil of the great Ottoman architect Sinan. The construction project was multireligious with engineers and artisans from around the region. The bridge had survived four centuries and thirty earthquakes.

Mostar is the capital of Herzegovina, a term that means "dukedom." Herzegovina occupies the southwest section of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for some periods in medieval times it had a separate administrative identity from Bosnia proper. The geography, dialect, customs, and cultural personality of the area are distinctive. Particularly striking are the white-bouldered mountains, craggy gorges, pre-Ottoman tombs, and Ottoman fortresses. Other towns in Herzegovina include Stolac and Trebinje (the once-classic city plundered and burned by Serb nationalists in 1992). Of special interest is Pocitelj, with its centuries-old mosques, minarets, and Ottoman-style homes perched along a steep hillside like a Herzegovinian Positano or Amalfi.

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