Friday, April 15, 2011

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mostar is Bosnia and Herzegovina's 5th-largest city and the most important one in the Herzegovina region. In 1468 it came under Ottoman rule and the town expanded as a defensive outpost.

The best known structure from the Ottoman era is the symbol of the city, Stari Most, the "Old Bridge", which crosses the Neretva River. It took 10 years to build but the bridge was completed in 1566-67. On each side of the bridge is a fortified tower. The Helebija tower is on the northeast side and the Tara tower is on the southwest. These bridge guardians, "mostari", give the town its name.

In 1878, Mostar was absorbed in to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of WWI in 1918.

After Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town underwent an 18 month long siege from 1992 to 1993. The Bosniaks first fought the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People's Army and then the Croatian Defense Council. There had been a plan between Serbia and Croatia to divide up Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Stari Most stood for 427 years until 9 November 1993, when the Croats shelled the bridge and destroyed it in only a few hours. Here's a video I found out on YouTube of the bridge's destruction. So sad.

The bridge was rebuilt and opened on 23 July 2004. It is 4 meters (~13 feet) wide, 30 meters (98.5 feet) long and 24 meters (~79 feet) high. There are regular festivals where people dive from the bridge in to the river. In July 2005, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Mostar's oldest brige isn't the "old bridge", it is Kriva Ćuprija, the "crooked bridge". It was built in 1558 as a construction test for the Stari Most. The bridge crosses the Robobolja Creek. This bridge survived the war but it was destroyed by floods in December 2000 and rebuilt in 2001. It too was later added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

When I was in Croatia last year, an Australian girl recommended that I visit Mostar. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to add it to my itinerary. So I was sure to include it on this year's trip to the Balkans. It's a pretty little town but you can still see damage from the war. Even today the Croats and Muslims live on different sides of the town and their children go to separate schools. They even have different mobile phone area codes. Things sure are complicated here.

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