A city of great cultural and historic significance situated in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina straddling on the banks of the Neretva river which forms the spine of the city, Mostar is illustrious of its rich architecture and stories of wartime in the Balkans.
Mostar to many is what flowers are to bees. It has been the battleground of two significant wars, the scars of which still can be felt on the city, its architecture, and the people. From the colonial and monumental buildings of Ottomans, neoclassical style of residential houses to the Austro-Hungarian style, the city resonates with eclectic architecture, foreign aesthetics, and indigenous styles.
Old Bridge and its significance
Mostar was conquered by the Ottomans in1463 which brought many Turkish influences on the city. The Ottoman King Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent ordered the construction of a bridge called Stari Most (Old Bridge) in 1566.
Designed by the renowned Ottoman architect Sinan, the city of Mostar is named after the bridge keepers (mostaris) that guarded this thriving stone edifice made of an elegant single-pointed arch system. This 28m long and 20m high bridge stood as a symbol of political peace between the East and the West until its destruction in the 1993 war.
Events of Wartime
The city went through terrible destruction and devastation during the war which has caused an ethno-territorial divide between its East bank and the West bank. The city’s infrastructure was in shambles after becoming the battleground for significant civil war.
In 1992, after declaring Bosnia and Herzegovina independent from Yugoslavia, the city was besieged by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Here the Bosniaks and Croats fought together against the Serbs. The Croat-Muslim counter-offensive army defeated the aggressors in June 1992.
In 1994, the Croatian Defence Council attacked the Muslim community in an attempt to make Mostar an exclusively Croat city. This left the city divided into a Croat majority west bank and Bosniak majority east bank and Old bridge.
In this war, the collapse of the Stari Most was a rather unfortunate symbol of the decline of the city’s cultural flexibility. The Croat tanks destroyed about 75% of the city’s housing and the bombings of many are still visible on the walls of its buildings. The bombings of the war are still entrenched on the walls of several buildings which resonate the ghosts of its difficult past onto its citizens and the tourists.
Mostar was characterized by eclectic ethnic diversity and autonomy from the empire. However, it is said that what goes up must come down. The entrenched disunion between the Muslim Bosniaks on one hand and the Catholic Croats on the other with a certain population of Serbs is proof of the communal splinters left as the aftermath of a war.
This divide yet lives on and is passed onto the present generation due to segregated schooling and minimal interactions. Despite getting admitted into the same school, the Muslims and the Croats attend lectures in shifts.
However, the presence of the various types of sacred structures such as mosques, minarets, an Islamic style bridge as well as Catholic and Orthodox churches in Mostar shows the religious tolerance and the cultural crossroads that the city is at.
The guns have been silenced and the bridge has been rebuilt. However, politics here continue to remain divided as ever which discouragingly makes the city recognized as the divided city. The citizens of the city are allegedly ignored and underprovided.
With no local council, there are no investments. While tourists visit this city frequently, part of this city is still a ghost town due to non-existing authority and a political stalemate between the Bosniaks and Croats which has plagued the city.
Apart from the flourishing tourism, Mostar’s economy is run by the aluminium and steel industry, banking, and telecommunication sector. It is one of the biggest financial centers in Bosnia and Herzegovina along with Sarajevo.
There are three dams situated in the city’s territory which provide a broad scope of future development. The private sector is striving at encouraging and strategizing the development of small and medium enterprises.
Immense efforts have been made in reviving the war-torn city back to its former glory. World Monument Fund partnered with Aga Khan to support the repairs and conservation efforts in the city.
Reconstruction in the city’s heart of the Stari Most was completed in 2004, 11 years after its obliteration using many of its original pieces recovered from the river. In 2005, UNESCO inscribed this monument in its World Heritage Site list.
The other most important aspect in the reconstruction of the city was the housing repair. The importance of restoring the urban context surrounding the Stari Most was realized and further carried out throughout the city which is still adding to the content of Mostar’s lost honor and its pre-war appearance.
Special efforts are being made to revive tourism in the city and promote its overall economic development to rebuild the image of a modern European environment.