In Bosnia and in the Balkans there are many bridges – old and new, beautiful, ancient, important, famous, great – but when you say ‘Stari Most’ (Old Bridge), there is only one bridge you can be talking about: the medieval bridge of Mostar.
Built nearly five centuries ago, the Stari Most was destroyed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993.
The bridge spans the Neretva river in the old town of Mostar, the city to which it gave the name. The city is the fifth-largest in the country; it is the center of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the unofficial capital of Herzegovina. Old Bridge is UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Stari Most is hump-backed, 4 metres (13 ft 1 in) wide and 29 metres long, and dominates the river from a height of 24 m (78 ft 9 in). Two fortified towers protect it: the Halebija tower on the northeast and the Tara tower on the southwest, called “the bridge keepers”.
The arch of the bridge was made of local stone known as tenelija. The shape of the arch is the result of numerous irregularities produced by the deformation of the intrados (the inner line of the arch). The most accurate description would be that it is a circle of which the centre is depressed in relation to the string course.
Instead of foundations, the bridge has abutments of limestone linked to wing walls along the waterside cliffs. Measuring from the summer water level of 40.05 m (131 ft 5 in), abutments are erected to a height of 6.53 metres (21 ft 5 in), from which the arch springs to its high point. The start of the arch is emphasized by a molding 0.32 metres (1 ft 1 in) in height. The rise of the arch is 12.02 metres (39 ft 5 in).
In ancient times, building a bridge was considered as a work of great benefit, not only because it facilitated the daily lives of people, but also for its function to unite what is divided, far, different. Thus, the Pope is also called Pontifex – builder of bridges.
The Old One (as mostarci, the people of Mostar, used to call it with tenderness), had joined the east and west banks of the Neretva River for almost five centuries. It united people, religions, ethnic groups, and different worlds. Over time, it had become the main symbol of the city, the point of reference for its citizens. It was part of their cultural identity, an expression of Bosnian culture.
In 16th century, Mostar grew and became important link between interior settlements and Adriatic Sea, so in 1557, Suleiman the Magnificent realized strategic position of Mostar and ordered construction of a new, stone bridge. Order fell on Mimar Hayruddin, student of chief Ottoman architect – Mimar Sinan, under the threat of death if construction does not succeeds.
The Mostar Bridge was built in 1557 by architect Mimar Hajrudin, a disciple of Sinan, the father of classic Ottoman architecture. It was made with 456 blocks of white stone, held together by a system of anchors and dowels. Two fortified towers protect it: the Helebija tower at north-east and the Tara tower at south-west.
Upon its completion, it was the largest single-arch bridge in the world. Some technical matters related to its construction remain a mystery: how the scaffolding was erected, how the stone was transported from one bank to another, how the scaffolding could remain standing throughout the long construction period. As a result, this bridge can be classed among the greatest architectural works of its time. Construction was supervised by Karagoz Mehmet Bey, Sultan Suleyman’s son-in-law. Stories said that bridge held together metal pins and proteins from egg whites. They also said that Mimar Hayruddin, architect of the bridge prepared for his funeral on the day the construction ended and scaffolding was to be taken down.
The famous traveler Evliya Çelebi wrote in the 17th century that: „the bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other….I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky“
That bridge stood in perfect shape for 427 years. During the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was destroyed on 9 November 1993.
After the war, it was decided to reconstruct the bridge as similar as it could be done with same materials and the same tehnology. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Bank, the World Monuments Fund and “Aga Khan Trust for Culture” formed a coalition that will oversee the reconstruction of the Stari Most. The Bosnian government, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Croatia and Council of Europe Development Bank provided funding. UNESCO formed an international committee of experts In October 1998, which would oversee the design and reconstruction work of the bridge. On 7 June 2001 work started by Turkish company “Er-Bu Construction Corp” that specialized in reconstruction of old Ottoman bridges with old techniques. For material was used local tenelija limestone that was used in the original bridge too. Professional divers helped and recovered original stones that left after the explosion in the river and those stones were used as material too. Reconstruction was finished on 23 July 2004.
Stari Most diving is a traditional annual competition in diving organized every year in mid summer (end of July). It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva. As the Neretva is very cold, this is a very risky feat and only the most skilled and best trained divers will attempt it. The practice dates back to the time the bridge was built, but the first recorded instance of someone diving off the bridge is from 1664. In 1968 a formal diving competition was inaugurated and held every summer.