Syukhtun Editions


I can't understand how so much evil and cruelty
could fit into such a small country in such a short time.

(Christian Palme, war correspondent in Bosnia
Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, February 1, 2003)

In 1972 I walked over this 500-year-old bridge in Mostar ("most" is "bridge" in the Serbo-croat language). Today the bridge is destroyed after succumbing to Croatian artillery during the Bosnian war, and now unscrupulous maffia groups prevail in the city, subjecting citizens to a reign of terror. Known war criminals who are guilty of hundreds of murders are prospering in the same neighborhoods as the surviving relatives of their victims. Even though there have been local war trials, they have been incompetent, and the criminals go free by threatening the witnesses with beatings and death. Throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina thousands of war criminals go free, in every layer of society, from high political bosses to business tycoons to ordinary workers. Some war criminals are even cordially received by European ministers, just as the Bosnian war criminal Jadranko Prlic was cordially received by Sweden's foreign minister Anna Lindh. This kind and respectful treatment of gruesome murderers is an insult to their victims, their families, and guarantees their continued evasion of justice and the long prison sentences they deserve. The Bosnian war has not ended, and hate still seethes in the city of Mostar, which enchanted me with its peaceful fairy-tale beauty in 1972. Fortunately, my grandmother never lived to see what happened to her city.

The city of Mostar located in Herzegovina, lies on the emerald Neretva River, at the centre of a plateau surrounded by high rugged mountains. Mostar was founded in the 15th century and developed around the area of a wooden bridge which was suspended on chains. The city developed at a rapid pace eventually taking the primacy of Blagaj, an ancient city, which until then had been the capital of Herzegovina.

The first bridge, a wooden suspension bridge was unstable and of fragile structure. Remains of this bridge are still visible on the left bank on the south side of the 'Old Bridge' Mostar developed into a large strategic and commercial hub becoming the the meeting point of roads from the sea connecting the south to the north, and the southern regions to the western regions. Due to the continued growth of Mostar it became necessary to replace the old wooden bridge, in whose towers, guards called 'Mostari' lodged (hence the area took it's name 'Mostar') The building of a new bridge was ordered by the sultan Sulejman, who was referred to as (Sulejman the Magnificent). The construction of the new bridge started in in 1557 and continued for the next ten years it was completed in 1566.

Turkish architect Mimar Hairedin, who studied under the greatest of all Ottoman architects, Kodza Mimar Sinan, designed the city's historic Ottoman bridge. The bridge was a masterpiece of Ottoman baroque architecture, one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. Known as the Old Bridge 'Stari Most'. The stone that was used for the bridge was a local stone called 'tenelija', it was a limestone that had exceptional physical and chemical qualities. It was used throughout the whole bridge including the balustrade, the stones were cut so smooth that there was no need for a binding material such as mortar. The stones were attached to one another by iron clamps and then filled with lead. The road on the bridge was also made of limestone resistant to traffic crossing the bridge. It is rumored that the architect Hairedin was not present when the scaffolding was removed for fear the bridge, scaffolding, and all would plunge into the Neretva River.

This is exactly what happened 427 years later, when Croats aimed their guns at the bridge and brought it crashing down into the river. I have seen a video film of this event, and I am filled with similar dread as when watching the twin towers of New York collapse.

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