back   back to menu
HISTORICAL OUTLINE: STARI MOST

English english language

Credits

Among the most detailed historical documentation available of the Bridge, (not the town), there is a publication which is titled: "STARI MOSTOVI U BOSNI I HERCEGOVINI" – by Dzemal Celic and Mehemed Mujezinovic – Sarajevo 1969. A copy of the text has been required by General Engineering and kindly provided by Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Machiel Kiel, (one of the members of the ICE). Translation of the text has been provided in order to have a reference outline for the design work and also because this interesting research is not so much known abroad. Translation has been first performed by Vedran Ivankovic and Maja Popovac, final layout is by John Kozlich. Measures and technical observations, contained in this writing, are sometimes subjected by inaccuracies, and will be better analysed in subsequent paragraphs of this web site. The document is here next reported:


2.2 Stari Mostovi u Bosni Hercegovini

"[…] The area of Mostar was densely populated during the Roman Empire era. The first inhabitants were concentrated in the Buna area. It was in Buna that many archaeological discoveries were made, thus unveiling the culture of the early settlement.

An old Roman bridge in Kosar was used during World War II, using this bridge as a marking point one could traverse the ancient Roman roads throughout the area. However, it was difficult to believe that one bridge could service the landscape between Mostar and Buna .One can only assume that there may have been another Roman bridge between Mostar and Buna, however, we are not to certain of its' exact location. During the medieval period (15th century) Blagaj was considered to be the capital of Herzegovina (today).

The oldest written testament of the existence of medieval Mostar date back to the 15th century, prior to the invasion of the Ottoman Turks. The testament was the work of Herceg Stjepan Radivoj (the Duke of Herzegovina).

Mostar developed at a rapid pace, eventually taking the primacy of Blagaj. Mostar developed into a strategic and commercial hub becoming the meeting point of roads from the sea connecting the south to the north and northern regions to the western regions.

The first medieval bridge in Mostar was a wooden suspension bridge which was very unstable and of fragile construction. When The Turks invaded and conquered Mostar they used the old wooden bridge for crossing from the east bank of the Neretva river to the west bank. (It is rumoured that the bridge swayed so much, that to cross it, one would be taking his life in his own hands). There are some notes pertaining to the construction of the wooden bridge but as to their whereabouts is another matter, we know that the bridge was made from wood without any pilasters and was suspended from chains. Remains of this bridge are still visible on the left bank (east) and south of the Old Bridge just below the museum ("Zavcajni Muzej") Today we can find ruins from that era (that is, prior to the Turkish invasion). The foundation walls used for carrying the chains are still visible on the left (east) bank of the river, on the right (west) bank there are no traces of buttress walls. In conclusion we know:

  • the wooden bridge existed before the arrival of the Ottoman Turks
  • it was repaired several times after the Turkish invasion
  • the construction was of wood without pilasters
  • the main construction component was a very heavy gauged metal chain
  • the method of construction has not been ascertained
  • the location was on the east (left) bank of the river approximately 20 metres south of the "Stari Most" (Old Bridge)
  • its elevation was significantly lower than the Old Bridge

In the 16th century Sultan Sulejman the Magnificent ordered the construction of a new bridge in Mostar, (Sulejman was regarded as the most perfect Islamic ruler in history, the Europeans called him "The Magnificent" but the Ottomans called him Kanuni "The Law giver"). From the reports of Hadzi Kalfa, the bridge was completed in 1566 which coincidentally was the last year of Sulejman's reign.

Evlija Celebija the famous Ottoman traveler and writer produced more information on the Old Bridge, claiming it was built by Kodza Mimar Sinan, son of Aga Abdulmenan under the orders of Sulejman the Magnificent. Evlija also mentions that there was plumbing within the bridge which was installed by a master craftsman; truly remarkable. However, Evlija erred as to the architect of the bridge. A Turkish historian uncovered a document in which it clearly states that the bridge was built by Hajrudin, Sinan's student.

It is a well known fact as to the year of completion of the bridge, but it remains an uncertainty as to the beginning date of construction. A document found in Sarajevo's "Zemaljski" museum states that the work on the bridge began in 1557 and according to the document the bridge had been under construction for nine years. The supervisor of the bridge's construction was Hadzi-Mehmed Karadzozbeg at the same time that the bridge was under construction he was building the largest mosque in Mostar, the Karadzobegs Mosque, also involved in the construction of the mosque was Hajrudin. While all this was transpiring, on another front "Rustem" the Croat was responsible for the construction of a bridge in Zepa, he was also involved in many projects throughout Bosnia.

On the Old Bridge in Mostar there are two inscriptions:

  • construction of the bridge completed in 1556; construction of the towers completed in 1676.
  • the other inscription states completed in 1737.

According to the dates of both inscriptions we find that they are related to renovation work being done to the bridge and not the actual building of the bridge itself or the towers. It is rumoured that there are two ancient writing pertaining to the bridge, however at this time they are not available. (presumably lost, as yet undiscovered, or never existed).

There is some mention of the Sultan's "Miracle Vault" on the shores of the Neretva river. The year of completion of the of the vault is inscribed on the (miracle vault) and is described in this manner:

k=100+d=4tr+200+t=400+k=20tm=40tr=200tj=10

The sum of these numbers equals 974 (1566).

Turkish poet E. Kadic and Croatian poet D. Franic describe the bridge in their many songs as a magnificent masterpiece, one of the world's greatest monuments.

Bejazidagic's song from 1592 mentions the bridge with two towers one on either side of the Neretva river, from the song we can ascertain that the tower dates of construction (1676) is false.

Many poets were inspired by the awesome greatness of the bridge as were the Tabi, Medzazi, Husami etc. groups. A French poet, A. Poulet during his stay in Mostar wrote that the "Old Bridge" is more courageous and more impressive than the Venetian bridge "Ponte de Rialto".

During the 19th and 20th centuries many authors (too numerous to mention them all) had taken an interest in the Old Bridge. An Englishman by the name of G. Wilkinson made the first technical research of the bridge in 1845. He happened upon the two Turkish notes (mentioned earlier in this text) on the supports of the bridge; from the translation of the notes he came to the conclusion that the bridge was of "Roman" workmanship. We shall talk a little more of G. Wilkinson later.

A few years later in Sarajevo the Russian Councillor for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Stara Srbia (old Serbia) also claimed that the Old Bridge was of Roman workmanship. This was the platform for other authors to make the same claim. A.J. Evans also made a wrong assumption of the Old Bridge as he repeats the claims of previous authors.

The most intriguing monument of the early inhabitants of Mostar was the beautiful Old Bridge spanning the Neretva river according to legend it is believed that Czar Trojan was the mastermind and builder of the bridge, based on the fact that his building success throughout Eastern Europe made a very strong impression on the Yugoslav imagination. There are other claims the the bridge was built by Hadrian, the Turks on the other hand claim that the bridge was ordered to be built by Sulejman the Magnificent.

Ottoman Emperors and others made numerous changes to the bridge that it prompted Gardner Wilkinson to say that there are no original signs of Roman nature remaining as part of the bridge. However, he is firmly convinced that the bridge was of Roman doing. The basis of his belief stems from the fact (others will agree) that the masonry and shape of the bridge's arch are evidently of Roman character and heritage. On the gates of both towers on either side of the Neretva, Roman remains were discovered, as well as remains of arches and building in the immediate vicinity of the bridge and on the shores of the river. Just one year after Evans, Frenchman E. de Sainte Marie uncovered some signs with regards to the bridge, unfortunately he never made an attempt to write a thesis as Wilkinson, Hiferding and Evans. As a result of this E. de Sainte Marie was in agony and never forgave himself for the error he had committed.

In the book Das Bauwesen in Bosnien und Herzegovina, the unknown author states "that he admired the work of the masons of the bridge who where mostly from Dubrovnik". They where without the modern technology and equipment of today to help them solve some of the complicated and technical problems that they encountered. The Mostar bridge is a prime example of complexity with one single arch of 29 metres in length and 19 metres in height spanning the Neretva river [see following paragraphs for detailed notes about measures and technical data].

The Old Bridge is considered to be one of the greatest historical monuments of the Balkans. At the end of the last century local writers were adorning the bridge with flowering words. The claim that the bridge was Roman was found in the writings of many of these authors.

Robert Michel, in writing a special book pertaining to Mostar and the bridge, suspected that not only the bridge in Mostar but all bridges throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina where of Roman heritage. In the study called "Alte Breken Bosnien und Herzegovina". At the beginning of his book the author claims that the statement that all stone bridges in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Roman is based on legend and the unrealistic assumptions of travellers who never desired to attribute credits to the Ottoman Turks. In his book the author goes on to comparing the Old Bridge to the Rialto bridge in Venice (just as Poullet); he dismisses the claim that the bridge is Roman; he writes about the previous wooden bridge; quotes Hadzi-Kalfa, and the many recorded legends, and retells the folk song of Rade the mason and the nymph. The same author goes on to say "If I would be asked the question, what do you consider to be the most impressive bridge in the world? My answer would most certainly be the Stari Most [Old Bridge] in Mostar. In conclusion I can humbly say that no other monument has impressed me as much as this bridge". He compares the bridge to a half moon or to the curvature of a seagull's wing span just prior to landing on the shore of the Neretva river.

The Old Bridge was the only monument of significance in the region and had formed an urban community around itself. On the other hand the old wooden bridge had a defence system and a maintenance program, that looked after the repairs of walls under the museum and foundations of older existing buildings. Therefore, it indicates to us that there was a densely populated settlement long before the Ottoman Turk invasion.

The location of the Old Bridge had already been determined in accordance to the position of other bridges and surroundings. The intentions of Sulejman the Magnificent to make a new bridge were just a little premature. Prior to the undertaking of the bridge there where other buildings of great significance from the Turkish era that were built such as (Cejvan-Cehaja Mosque, placed on the site of today's museum, han Kalhana). It becomes apparent, that most of the stores and structures built by Cejvan-Cehaja and Karadozbeg vakuf's, were built prior to the replacement of the wooden bridge by the stone one.

Kalib Cehaja wrote, that after Sinan observed the proposed area of the placement of the new bridge; he proclaimed that it was virtually impossible to construct a single arched bridge at the proposed site, therefore he departed. However, a short time later, to every one amazement a carpenter decided to build the bridge, and so he did ?

However this legend seems very unrealistic when one takes consideration the Engineering factors involved. Therefore, one of Sinan's students built the bridge. According to Catib Cehaja's memory the main problem appeared to be the erection of the arch's centering point, because in this area the river flows were very swift and strong, spanning it with a single arch would be very tricky. Hajrudin after testing the rocks on either shore determined that he could construct the bridge without the aid of spaced column supports from the riverbed. It proved to be an open minded and courageous attempt.

Instead of foundations, he decided to make the supports of the bridge on either end of the river out of limestone that were connected to the shore rocks by the side walls of the bridge. Measured from the summer river level (40.05 HASL) [see following paragraphs for detailed notes about measures and technical data]. He erected supports to the height of m6.53 [variable measure] and began to built the arch from that elevation. The point at where the arch begins he used a simple but strong cm35 thick profile, from that point the span between the two supports was m28.7 [see following paragraphs for detailed notes about measures and technical data]. The arch was built from local stone called tenelija of which there was an abundance, in the immediate area. Tenelija stone was the most commonly used stone in the construction of monument buildings. The builder constructs the arch form resembling an elliptical or oval shape with a span of 28.7 m [geometrically this statement is not properly correct: refer to following paragraphs for more notes]. The shape of the arch was something completely new for the area. Concerned with the huge span and the characteristics of the material being used the builder manages to make a rather thin but elegant structure. The thickness of the vault, measured on the front arches is cm77 [variable measure] and width measures cm397 [variable measure – average cm395].

The arch vault is built of voussoirs with radial links that are equal to the height of the front arch. The voussoirs were placed out in horizontal rows, with three or four in one line [from two to five per row even if frequently is three-four], some of these stones exceeded m2 in length. The builder knowing that the structure, being of elegance, was very fragile, that he made absolutely certain that no unnecessary stones were used. He made the front walls on both sides cm80 thick [variable measure] and refused to fill the cavities or core of the bridge with heavy stones and soil which was the usual procedure on other bridges, (Zepa bridge being a prime example), instead of this he introduces one middle rib and where possible he incorporated cavities to reduce the weight of the bridge. This method of construction was used on the "Kriva Cuprija" bridge which straddles the Radobolja brook, a tributary of the Neretva river. However, circumstances were different for the Old Bridge, which required a more sophisticated sense for weight and balance of the construction [structurally speaking this statement is not proved]. Viewing the bridge in cross-section we can appreciate the method of construction: a cavity on the upstream (north) side of the bridge measures cm20 wider than the one on the downstream (south) side [today it is not possible to verify the above measure and peculiarity, which anyhow might have been presumably variable along the structure]. Two other cavities were discovered during maintenance work being done after World War II [even about this peculiarity no verify and location is currently possible].

The transition from the arch to the front walls is highlighted with a decorative profile [lower cornice] cm15 in height; the profile extends cm15 from the face of the bridge [see following paragraphs for detailed notes about measures and technical data]. The front faces of the bridge are on the same layer as the extended profile and are composed of tenelija ashlars in horizontal rows. These ashlars continue partly down the side walls of the bridge.

The bridge was partly annexed on the front rows of stone on the right side (west bank) in order to lower the slope. This wedge shape form has three rows of stones in its final spot, and its joints are perpendicular to the primary steep. It is difficult to tell whether this correction was made after or during the construction of the bridge, but we can assume that it was the second option, because there are no visible marks of different procedure in the following construction.

The steep of the bridge is transparent on the fašades, by the profile [upper cornice] similar but thicker from the one above the arch (approximately cm20-24 thick) [variable measure]. This profile is also going over the front walls for 14 cm. From the top of the bridge level is steeply falling to the left and right side. The highest spot is on m60.39 above the see level, that means m20.34 above the summer river level [variable measure]. On the right side it goes down to m57.24, and on the left m57.05 [see following paragraphs for detailed notes about measures and technical data].

The path over the bridge is from the both sides framed by stone plates parapet cm23-25 thick [variable measure], and cm94.50 height [variable measure]. The parapet is tighten to a profile in same layer as the front walls, so the profile [upper cornice] stays plastically accented from the top and from the bottom. It is interesting to note that the stone parapets were chamfered on one side and placed on top of the side walls [spandrels] with the chamfered end of the stone facing away from the bridge.

Why this was done, we do not know, we may presume that was the fine sense for optical effects, as in ancient pilasters or similar.

The path is paved by regular (big and small) stone plates, from the firm white limestone [not limestone but krecnjak stone], with cross threshold, which keeps from slipping of the people or horses. The stones are densely compressed and anchored with mortar, so that only few drops of water were allowed into the construction. The threshold end before the parapets, so that the rain would drain quickly and avoid making puddles. Underneath this pavement there is the layer of cm15 of gravel stone with mortar made of red earth and lime. This lowest level is leaned on the big stones with which the cavities were vaulted with [for technical details concerning different layers below pavement refer to following paragraphs].

In following years, we can’t tell exactly when, most possible during the further reconstruction [maybe Austro-Hungarian period], the iron fence was added to the existing stone parapets. . This was more than likely done for safety reasons while crossing the bridge.

The side walls which are attached to the supports from down and upstream side, and from some angle are protecting the parts of the shore, to which the bridge is spanning, from the water strokes, are mostly made to the same height as the front walls of the bridge. The technique of building these walls isn’t all alike and not similar to the masonry of the bridge, so we can presume that it must have been rebuilt or repaired sometimes during the centuries. This is mostly visible on the side walls on the left shore. Just on that place the two signs about the reconstruction were found.

A community formed around the Old Bridge and developed into a strategic and commercial hub. The surrounding mountains, the deep rocky river bed of the blue-green Neretva, houses composed of various geometrical shapes, the two towers, the bridge itself, all made from the same grey-white type stone, slate type covered roofs of the same stone only lighter in shade, leaves a deep impression on the observer.

The towers of the bridge were considered to be construction parts that were necessary for the support of the Old Bridge. However, this was over exaggerated and not the case, the towers provided an artistic flare to the bridge and they did not serve as supports.

There are disagreements as to the dates of construction of the towers. The facts based on the two signs (mentioned earlier in this text) the bridge being 974 (1566) and the towers 1087 (1676). Some historians claim that the left tower on the east bank was built prior to the tower on the west bank. The masonry also reveals different periods of building. The bridge was made of precisely cut stone (as most other public buildings) whereas the towers were constructed of gravel stone and other half worked materials.

From historical evidence it became obvious the two towers existed in 1452 (some writers describe them even 84 years before the bridge).

The assumption that the towers are from the pre Turkish era were confirmed by researches completed on the site. Research was first carried out on the tower situated on the right bank of the Neretva. After the mortar was removed from the tower it was found to contain gear grindings, similar traces were found on the left tower which proves an older dating of the construction of the towers. This fact indicates that the towers where from the medieval Bosnian State era and later modified for the needs of the Ottoman Turks. The first renovations of the towers were made during the reign of Mehmed the II el-Fatih also he carried out renovations on the then existing old wooden bridge. During that time the whole town of Mostar was converted into a fortification.

The towers on either side of the bridge had a specific shape. half cylinders with the flat side facing the bridge. The left tower (east bank) known as the Tara or Hercegusa, was transformed into a storage area for ammunition and powder, during the occupation in 1878. The right tower (west bank) was called the Halebinovka or Celovina tower. The lower portion of the Halebinovka tower served as a prison while the upper floors were used as observation posts. Venetian warriors attacked Mostar in 1652, 1693 and 1694. After the first attack it was evident that it would be necessary to take measures to ensure the protection of the city as well as the bridge crossing.

We know very little about the repairs made on the bridge outside of the fact that Hajrudin's work was so solid that it resisted wear and tear through the centuries. We can assume that the only fragile spot on the bridge was on the left (east) support and side walls which indicated traces of building repair.

Despite the fact the "sign" (mentioned earlier in this text) and dated 1676 mentions no repair work on the bridge the facts prove that indeed that repair work was carried out at that time. The second sign mentions that repairs on the bridge were completed in 1150 (1736-1737).

Legend refers Rade-neimar as the builder of the bridge. Many songs and poems tell us the same thing, the songs also mention that two people, Stojan and Stoja who were buried within the bridge, that was usually one of the ways of Turkish punishment, not to mention others.

We can discover many important facts from the legends and songs, for example they mention that there existed a builder or renovator from 1676 to 1736-1737. Another song tells us that the Halebinovka tower served as a prison and that the prisoners were used to carry out restoration projects on the Old Bridge. Precise research about the history of Turkish builders of that era discloses the reconstruction of the bridge of Ali-Pasha in Sarajevo in 1739. The builder or renovator was Rade-neimar !! This being the case we can conclude that he worked on the restoration of the bridge in Sarajevo after he had completed restorations to Mostar's Old Bridge.

During the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Mostar area many renovations were made. The sloping ground on either side of the bridge was raised by 80 cm. in order to accommodate the current traffic problems. The path on the bridge was also increased and re-surfaced. To adapt to the current situation, main streets leading to the bridge were increased in elevation, also the elevation of the entrance doors of the bridge were increased. After World War II, reconstruction around the bridge area continued and the remains of Austro-Hungarian intervention were removed. During the Austro-Hungarian period damaged stones on the bridge were repaired using cement mortar, this was a poor solution as the mortar left stained dark spots on the bridge.

During World War II plans were made to destroy the Old Bridge, luckily these plans were discarded. However, some damages, due to mine slots, were done and even after mortar repairs, water could penetrate the construction leading to further damages. The situation was considered very serious therefore, restoration began in 1955. Supports were restored on either side of the bridge and damaged walls and empty cavities fully repaired, the restoration was completed by the end of 1991. The second stage of restoration involved the arch of the Old Bridge using the injection method, with a special mixture of 82.50% cement, 15% mixture of stone flour composed of limestone tenelija, 2.50% bentonit. The required volume of this mixture for the repairs came to 7 cubic metres which gives us a good indication that the arch (vault) was severely damaged also cracks were appearing in the stone and mortar joints. At this time damaged stones on the vault as well as on the fašade were replaced, cavities of cement mortar were removed and replaced with a special mixture that blended in with the colour of the tenelija stone.

The renovation program on the Old Bridge was in the works for ten years and many reports were written by D. Krsmanovic, H. Dolarovic and Z. Langof, these reports and all technical data are available today.

The Old Bridge in Mostar was the inspiration for many poets and writers it also created many legends. Evlija Celebija talks of the bridge as well as the "cardak". The cardak was on the west bank of the Neretva, being the meeting place of well educated people of that time. Today a coffee bar stands where the cardak use to be.

From ancient times until today the Old Bridge has remained a symbol of Mostar, it remains as an attraction for its inhabitants as well as for the many travellers and tourists. The tradition of jumping from the top of the arch down to the river will remain a symbol, carried by the generations to come, forever, as long as the Neretva river and the "Stari Most" (Old Bridge) exist. […]"

author of the text: Dzemal Celic and Mehemed Mujezinovic
back   back to menu
ani.gif (16635 bytes)
GENERAL ENGINEERING - P.zzale Donatello 4 - 50132 Firenze - Italy - ph. +39 055 2345256 - fax. +39 055 2476074