One of the major attractions of Europe can be pinpointed to the fairy tale experience it offers through their old town areas and its complementing scenic views. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one such country, offering these views, its human settlements date back to the Neolithic age. Culturally, politically, and socially, the country has a rich but complex history, having been first settled by the South Slavic peoples that populate the area today from the 6th through to the 9th centuries. 

In the 12th century, the Banate of Bosnia was established, which evolved into the Kingdom of Bosnia in the 14th century, after which it was annexed into the Ottoman Empire, under whose rule it remained from the mid-15th to the late 19th centuries, introducing Islam into the region (Wikipedia). With such a rich cultural background, it becomes obvious to expect a diverse architectural treasure from this country. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina have a number of architectural heritage sites that are preserved under UNESCO. As per the Cooperation Memorandum signed by the government of Bosnia and UNESCO, in December 1995, the restoration of historic centres and religious structures was undertaken. In particular, Sarajevo and Mostar were the focus of this restoration. Along with this, a draft for cultural restoration was prepared by UNESCO for three more sites.

From a physically deteriorating town to a thriving business centre, the town of Mostar was revitalised by Stari-Grad, a semi-autonomous organisation. As for any restoration project, the basic and the most important part of the process were documentation and mapping, which was covered by the agency in a span of three years. The old town of Mostar was formed around the 15th and 16th century and depicts a Turkish architectural language for its residential areas. 

The town was divided into two parts on either side of a natural valley, making the construction of the bridge a must. The bridge stood as a distinctive feature of the town and was a symbol of a varied architectural character being integrated into one. It was destroyed during the 1990 conflict but was later rebuilt in 2004 under the UNESCO committee. The overall revitalisation of the area was done considering and preserving the existing scale and character of the space. No new out of proportion alternations were done in terms of the material palette as well as in terms of architectural form and massing. 

Architectural restoration of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar Old Town area ©SilvanRehfeld

A pre-war character was continued for the restoration work maintaining the overall integrity of the place. The reconstruction was showcased rather than kept hidden. The single-arch bridge was rebuilt using original masonry construction techniques, where the used stone was mined out of the same quarry, from which the original ones came. Along with the restoration works of the town, the Stari-Grad committee also ensures the smooth working of current day infrastructure management, without disturbing the heritage value of the space. 

The restoration work was continued for many other sites, including few religious ones. Built during the 1600s, the Tabacica Mosque is one of the tourist attractions of the town. It is placed in the close vicinity of the old bridge. The military operation dating from 1992-93 caused great damage to the mosque, destroying the minarets, 20m high roof, and the porch area. The restoration work was undertaken by UNESCO and the restored mosque was inaugurated in June 2000. 

Another such historic symbol that was restored was the Kriva Cuprija (or the Crooked Bridge). This too is a single arched bridge, connecting over the Neretva River. The footbridge widely resembles the main old bridge, but with a perfect semi-circular arch. Unlike many other monuments of the vicinity, the bridge was recently destroyed in December 2000 by the floods. It was soon restored by UNESCO within a year, making it usable in the year 2001.

These restorations not only helped maintain the architectural integrity of the town but also helped in spreading awareness about restorations. 

Author

Sanjana is a young architect with keen interest in place making and urban theories. It's the stories of the spaces and it's expressions, which got her exploring the field of journalism.

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