Inauguration of the Mostar BridgeOn July 23rd in Mostar, the reconstructed Old Bridge will be inaugurated by the chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Sulejman Tihic, and UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, representing the entire United Nations, in the presence of about ten heads of state and other top European political figures. Destroyed in 1993 during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Old Bridge was the symbol of the city of Mostar. Rebuilt 11 years later, this bridge becomes the symbol of reconciliation and human solidarity.
On November 9, 1993, the Old Bridge in Mostar collapsed into the waters of the Neretva River after being hit by heavy shells. The city, which lost a significant number of residents during the war, was struck at its very heart. Mostar was defined by the bridge, to which it owes even its name: "most" means bridge in the local languages. Since its construction between 1557 and 1566 by Ottoman architect Mimar Hajruddin, a student of the celebrated Sinan, "the Old Bridge" (Stari Most) – as the people in Mostar called it – had withstood all sorts of calamities, invasions, wars, and even earthquakes.
"When a bridge is broken, there often remains, on one side or the other, a sort of stump. At first, it seemed to us that it had crumbled entirely with nothing left behind, taking with it a piece of the mountain, the stone towers on either side, lumps of Herzegovina's soil. We saw later, on both sides, real scars, alive and bleeding," wrote Predrag Matvejevic, a writer born in Mostar in 1932 (to a Russo-Ukrainian father and a Croatian mother) who has unceasingly proclaimed his "ethnic impurity".1
Flanked by two fortified towers, the Halebija Tower on the right bank and the Tara Tower on the left, the bridge had a single hump-backed arch that was four meters wide and 30 meters long. It was made of 456 white stone blocks.
The Old Bridge was destroyed for its symbolic value. It's for this same reason that UNESCO promised to rebuild it.
"We are present in Mostar in order to breathe fresh life into an exceptional heritage which, after having been used as a target, needs to become a rallying sign, a sign of recognition, the powerful symbol of a plural identity founded on mutual trust," said Koïchiro Matsuura.
Just four months after the collapse of the bridge, as Bosnia-Herzegovina descended into all-out war, UNESCO launched a first appeal on March 10, 1994 for the bridge's reconstruction and in June that year sent a fact-finding mission that proposed emergency measures.
The Dayton accords signed in December 1995, which set out a general framework for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, provided for the creation of a Commission for the Preservation of National Monuments and tasked the Director-General of UNESCO with naming two of its five members, including its president.
On July 13, 1998, UNESCO, the World Bank and municipal authorities launched a joint appeal for the reconstruction of the Old Bridge, which was answered by five donor countries (Croatia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), as well as the Council of Europe Development Bank.2
While the World Bank was responsible for the financial part of the project and the city of Mostar handled the disbursement of the funds, UNESCO's main task was to ensure the technical and scientific coordination.
To this end, the Organization in October 1998 named an international committee of experts for the reconstruction of the Old Bridge and the rehabilitation of the old city of Mostar3 that was asked to monitor the quality and organization of the work being done.
The Old Bridge was rebuilt with local materials – "Tenelija" and "Bretcha" stones found in nearby quarries – and according to traditional methods, using quoins, cramps and dowels. After two years of scientific and archeological research, reconstruction began on June 7, 2001. On April 14, 2003, numerous Mostar residents looked on as the first arch stone was placed. The new bridge was completed in April this year.
Four other major projects sponsored by UNESCO have been implemented in Mostar: the restoration of the Tabacica mosque (financed by Saudi Arabia at a cost of 200,000 dollars); the plan to revitalize the historic city center of Mostar (financed by Italy, 230,000 dollars); the restoration of the Kriva Cuprija bridge (financed by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, 100, 000 dollars); and, the restoration of the old Mostar hammam (financed by France, 150,000 dollars). These last two sites also will be inaugurated on July 23, at ceremonies attended by French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.
On July 23rd, the inauguration of the Stari Most will bring together heads of state from across south-eastern Europe, including the presidents of all of the former Yugoslav republics. They first met in Ohrid (Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia), under the auspices of UNESCO, for the Forum on "Dialogue among Civilizations» that took place last August 29 and 30. It was at this forum that Dragan Čović, then the leader of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, invited his counterparts to the inauguration of the Mostar bridge. Their presence confirms their commitment, made in Ohrid, to work together to foster a "new era in which dialogue, understanding and reconciliation replace the turbulent past".
1. Predrag Matvejevic: “This bridge between East and West”, in Stari Most / The Old Bridge in Mostar, by Gilles Péqueux and Yvon Le Corre, Gallimard & Partenaires, 2002.
2. The project, which cost a total of 15.4 million dollars, was financed via a loan from the World Bank (four million dollars), along with grants from Italy, the Netherlands, Croatia and Turkey. The European Union and the government of France provided technical assistance. The city of Mostar provided two million dollars.
3. Members of the Committee:
Prof. Leon Pressouyre, President (France)
Mounir Bouchenaki (UNESCO)
Azedine Beschaoush (Tunisia)
Laurent Levi-Strauss (UNESCO)
Prof. Cevat Erder (Turkey)
Prof. Zlatko Langof (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Prof. Milan Gojkovic (deceased, Serbia and Montenegro)
Prof. Radovan Ivancevic (deceased, Croatia)
Ferhat Mulabegovic (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Machiel Kiel (Netherlands)
Prof. Girlu Necipoglu (Turkey)
Prof. Giorgio Macchi (Italy)
Prof. Eddy de Witte (Belgium)
Prof. Gabi Dolff-Bonekamper (Germany)
Prof. Mihailo Muravljov (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
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Photo: © UNESCO/Alain Roussel