The World Renown Stari Most Bridge
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Destroyed 9 November 1993
by Bosnian Croat forces (55 sec mark)
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As the bridge looks today.
Reopened 23 July 2004
18 December 1998
Slowly, we moved down Mostar's narrow Marshall Tito Avenue, reading off the names of the tangent streets. The roads were tight with few identifying features or markings. Behind rows of buildings, the river for which we searched remained hidden. Passing a small set of stairs set into a group of buildings, I directed the driver to pull over, recalling something about 'stairs' when we had asked earlier for directions.
The Ottoman period began in 1468. At that time, Mostar, a Turkish town, consisted of 19 houses. Being the juncture of the two parts of Herzegovina, the village soon gained a large strategic and commercial importance, becoming the meeting point of the North-South and East-West roads. The city grew quickly, taking the primacy over Blagaj, a more ancient city that had, until then, been the capital of Herzegovina.
The community developed around a wooden bridge suspended on chains that spanned the Neretva River. Within a brief period of time, this bridge quickly became the central focus of the region. The keepers of the wooden bridge, the guards who were housed in fortifications that protected the bridge crossing, were known as the Mostari, the Serbo-Croat word for bridge—most-and 'star,' the word for 'old.' Ultimately, the town that grew around the bridge took on the guard's name.
In 1557, at the request of Turkish Sultan Sulejman 'The Magnificent,' a single broad span of shining white cobalt was built across the narrowest point of the Neretva River to replace the old wooden bridge that was heavily worn from the immense foot traffic that crossed. It was a "slender arch between two round towers" and was portrayed, by many, as "one of the most beautiful bridges in the world."
The new bridge took 10 years to construct and was completed in 1566. On each side of the bridge, masonry towers were built, which at one point in time, hosted a garrison of 160 soldiers. The masonry span was 92 feet in length with a width of nearly fifteen feet. Each entrance to the bridge rested 183 feet above the river, the arched crown 17 feet higher than the abutments. The vault of the bridge was made of Tenelija stone square blocks linked by means of iron dowels and iron stirrups connected with lead. The spandrel walls and the cornice above the vault extrados were also made of Tenelija stone square blocks. Overall, the main vault consisted of 144 cubic meters of stone in 456 pieces: 16 cubic meters in the archivaults: 37.5 cubic meters in facing walls; 126.6 cubic meters in interior masonry; 7.8 cubic meters in stone above voids; 11.4 cubic meters in parapet; 120 square feet in pavement; 878 dowels; and 1,012 cramps.
The Stari Most and the surrounding town it- self soon came to symbolize the very idea of Bosnia- Herzegovina, a place where Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim peoples lived distinctively, but together and, most importantly, in mutual tolerance. This very symbology was despised by the Bosnian-Croats who also saw it as a lasting reminder of Turkish influence in their Christian land. So pitifully fanatical were some of the Bosnian-Croats military commanders that on Nov. 9, 1993, a decision was made to destroy this symbol of unification and sufferance. From a position located just up the river, multiple direct fire cannon rounds from a Croat tank dropped the arch into the swiftly moving turquoise waters of the ravine below ... a scene captured on film and telecast throughout the world that same day.
In late 1997 and early 1998, the NATO Stabilization Forces (SFOR) Hungarian Engineer Contingent (HEC) assisted by a commercially contracted firm from Budapest, Hungary, undertook the project of collecting the stones of the former bridge lying in the river…gathering 80 cubic meters of stones which is believed to comprise 40 percent of the bridge total. These stones are stored on a metal and wooden plateau located on the right bank, downstream, approximately 50 meters from the bridge.
The restoration effort is to continue in the spring of 1999 with a plan to place a team of military divers back in the waters of the Neretva River to conduct a topographic survey by which they hope to identify the locations and condition of the majority of the remaining stones...many of which were either heavily damaged by the direct fire of the numerous tank rounds it took to destroy the bridge or heavily eroded over six years by exposure to the rushing river. Time, and continued fighting among the various ethnic factions within a city that once was a shining example to all of Yugoslavia of moderation and tolerance, though, continue to threaten the final end result of the project ... rebuilding that which was once" one of the most beautiful bridges in the world."
In this real-life parable, 'Humpty-Dumpty' was blown off the wall and, now, the world is trying to put 'him' back together again. But, as I stood in the well-worn stones leading up to the sheered edge where hundreds of thousands of bare, sandled and shoed feet had trod before over a period of four and a quarter centuries, gazing down from the edge of the parapet into a void that once was filled by a mighty stone span, I sadly realized that the architectural marvel and essence that once was the Stari Most will never be the same. No amount of money, no manner of reconstruction, will ever be able to recreate that feeling one would have standing in the ruts carved into the stone by the shuffling feet of people from every walk of life, at a geographical point of beauty that had not changed over time.
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