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"At one time my late lamented father told me as a child how bridges first came to this world and how the first bridge was built. When Allah the Merciful and Compassionate first created this world, the earth was smooth and even as a finely engraved plate. That displeased the devil who envied man this gift of God. And while the earth was still just as it had come from God’s hands, damp and soft as unbaked clay, he stole up and scratched the face of God’s earth with his nails as much and as deeply as he could. Therefore, the story says, deep rivers and ravines were formed which divided one district from another and kept men apart, preventing them from travelling on that earth that God had given them as a garden for their food and their support. And Allah felt pity when he saw what the Accursed One had done, but was not able to return to the task which the devil had spoiled with his nails, so he sent his angels to help men and make things easier for them. When the angels saw how unfortunate men could not pass those abysses and ravines to finish the work they had to do, but tormented themselves and looked in vain and shouted from one side to the other, they spread their wings above those places and men were able to cross. So men learned from the angels of God how to build bridges, and therefore, after fountains, the greatest blessing is to build a bridge and the greatest sin to interfere with it, for every bridge, from a tree trunk crossing a mountain stream to this great erection of Mehmed Pasha, has its guardian angel who cares for it and maintains it as long as God has ordained that it should stand."

(I.Andric, Most na Drini, Belgrade, 1945,

English edition published by Ruskin House, London 1959,

Translated by Lovett F.Edwards)





1.1 Preamble

1.2 Aims and Significance of the Project

1.3 Study area-location



2.1 Background

2.2 General Description of Project

2.3 Limitations

2.4 Methodology



3.1 Historical Context

3.1.1 History of Mostar (1468-1878)

3.1.2 Austro-Hungarian Occupation (1878-1918)

3.1.3 Years after 1918

3.2 The Mostar Bridge

3.2.1 History

3.2.2 Physical Evidence

3.2.3 Social Activities



4.1 Evaluation of Significance

4.1.1 Historical Significance

4.1.2 Aesthetic Significance

4.1.3 Social Significance

4.5.4 Scientific Significance


4.2.1 Historic

4.2.2 Aesthetic

4.2.3 Social

4.2.4 Scientific



5.1 Previous Reports/Available Data

5.2 Sites of Comparable Interest/Experience

5.2.1. Dubrovnik

5.2.2 Sarajevo

5.2.3 Beirut

5.3 International Legislation And The Cultural Heritage

5.4 Reactions to the destruction of the Mostar Bridge

5.5 International Cooperation



6.1 Requirements to Retain Significance

6.2 Constraints arising out of Significance

6.3 Constraints Arising out of local Bodies for Protection of the Cultural Heritage

6.4 Constraints Arising out of Physical Condition

6.5 Other Constraints

6.5.1 Activities of International and Local Organizations

6.6 Options



7.1 Discussion

7.2 Aims and Objectives

7.3 Policy Statement

7.4 General Policies

7.5 Interpretation

7.6 Conclusion



  2. RECOMMENDATION 1239 (1994)
  3. On the Cultural Situation in the former Yugoslavia,

    by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe




1.1 Preamble

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is far from being an isolated conflict. Worldwide, there have been nearly 250 armed conflicts since the end of the Second World War, and there are some 50 armed conflicts in over 40 countries currently raging.

What separates this war from all others is the scale of destruction, and its deliberate and systematic nature. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina has produced ‘a major cultural catastrophe’ stated Information Reports published by the Council of Europe concerning architectural losses there (Doc. 6756, 2 February 1993). Probably no larger town in Bosnia and Herzegovina has suffered as much physical damage as Mostar. During the barbaric war against common people and their culture in years 1991 through 1995, seven major bridges are blown up in Mostar, including the famous thirty-meter single-arched The Old Bridge, built more than four centuries ago; hundreds of homes were burned, mosques, churches, museums, artists’ studios, libraries, schools, hospitals, cafes…lie in the rubble. In the span of a few years the city is reduced to an urban ruin. Streets once lined with tour buses are now littered with debris of war; the three major ethnic groups which for centuries lived together in Mostar, are victims of the bitter hatreds that are fueling this war.

What can we, architects, conservators, former residents of Mostar, once fiercely jealous of our city and its beauty, do but look beyond the conflict; face what is happening, understand and propose the future.


1.2 Aims and Significance of the Project

The aim of the project is to develop theoretical framework for understanding the arguments that are taking place in the conservation world over the direction in which reconstruction of cultural properties damaged in war in former Yugoslavia (Map 1, page 5) should go. I’ll be studying the Mostar Bridge, not only as reality, but as a symbol and the meanings associated with it, determine and discuss its cultural significance, locally, nationally and internationally; analyze the options to develop appropriate policies/guidelines to enable the significance to be retained/revealed.

The project will look at the nature of destruction and conflict in general terms, its effect on material culture and inhabitants, as well as at international conventions set up to protect cultural property in the war and their inadequacy to prevent loss, destruction and damage, or to restore missing cultural property.




 Cultural significance is the term used to describe importance of a relevant heritage item. Its purpose is to help identify the attributes which contributes to make it of value to us and to our society. Cultural Significance is contained in the fabric of an item, in its setting and relationship to other items, and in historical records that allow us to understand it. (Draft Manual for the Use of Historical Themes and Evaluation Criteria, Department of Planning, 1994.)

History provides the background context within which the cultural significance of the place can be understood, assessed and compared. It helps to explain why an item exists and how it was changed.


 3.1 Historical Context

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been the territorial demarcation of the Roman Empire between East and West, and the meeting point of different civilizations and their cultural concepts. For centuries people of different religions lived and worked together there. Beside Christianity, in means of Orthodox and Catholic faith, Islam was brought by the Turks. In XVI-th century, the Sephardi, the Spanish speaking Jews, settled there .

With Austro-Hungarian occupation, new wave of European nations were introduced there: not only Austrians and Hungarians, but Czechs, Poles, the Ashkenazi - the Galician Jews.

The peculiar position of Bosnia, a storm centre for centuries on the border of the Eastern and Western worlds, saves it from the course of detailed provincialism and gives it an interest that extends far beyond its narrow borders. It was Bosnia’s fate that specifically on its land, interests became interwoven on the part of some of the greatest world powers of various times. Nonetheless, Bosnia had the internal strength to maintain its own identity and in a great measure establish its autonomous worth, which it was able to demonstrate philosophically by means of the philosophy of its Bosnian Church, and to demonstrate culturally by the production of the highly individual mediaeval tombstones of great variety, called "stecci" (3.1, page 29). Bosnia’s specific, individual culture, existing over a long series of years and merging during that time with new philosophies and new cultural influences, formed the nucleus according to which Bosnia always remained unique.

Exposed to various civilizations, philosophies and cultures, and their constant contact, Bosnia developed very early in her history the kind of existence which is today seen as the achievement of European civil society. "It would not be too much to say that assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip at Sarajevo in 1914 was the turning point of modern history." (L.F.Edwards Translator’s Forward, 1959 - I. Andric,The Bridge on the Drina)

Mostar (3.2 page 29), one of Bosnia’s largest settlement, represents the whole history, as well as the present political situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.



3.2 The Mostar Bridge

All the epochs and civilizations passed, built the bridges in Mostar. If they had not built them, the rulers scrambled for the name: "France Joseph’s Bridge; King Peter’s Bridge; Tito’s Bridge"...

In the village of Podporim, along the old Mostar road leading to Sarajevo, stands a carved stone trough, although there is no trace of any well spring. It was said that the architect who built the bridge pledged to forfeit his head if the bridge collapsed. When the bridge was completed, he could not bring himself to attend the removal of the scaffolding but fled from Mostar and waited until this was done. Excited and impatient in the expectation of news, the builder distractedly drilled a hole in a stone by hitting it with a hammer and so he carved out the trough.

People used the rain-water from that trough as a medicine at least until the beginning of the twentieth century.

There is no town in the world which is linked in such an inseparable manner with one bridge as the town of Mostar is with its Old Bridge.

Over the years, it became a true symbol of Mostar and gradually became so closely related to the town that it was unimaginable without it. The Old Bridge was to Mostar, what Notre Dame is to Paris, the Kremlin to Moscow or Opera House to Sydney.

As long as the Old Bridge spanned the banks of the Neretva river, it was Mostar itself....


3.2.1 History

This great single-arched stone bridge, a rare structure of unique beauty, such as many richer and busier towns do not posses ("There are only two others such as this in the whole Empire,"they used to say in olden times) was the only permanent crossing in the whole middle and upper course of the Neretva.

The Old Bridge was built between two medieval towers, according to the plans of Mimar Haireddin, one of the architects of the Court and a student of famous Kodja Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect of the Ottomans.

The existence of the bridge conditioned the gradual concentration of the population and development of the town, which owes its name to the bridge, (most=bridge; mostar=bridge keeper, who guarded the bridge)

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century documents, the bridge was described as the Bridge of Sultan Suleiman. Documents thereafter refer to it as the Great Bridge, and from the eighteenth century, as the Old Bridge. Its dimensions, construction, shape and setting made it a unique monument of it kind.

The Old Bridge had always had many admirers. Anyone who saw it was overwhelmed by its beauty and the boldness of its construction. "I have travelled far and have stopped in awe at the doors of Mostar, for I have noticed minarets, slender as the voice of prayers, and a bridge over the water as the moon in the sky."(unknown 17th century traveller)

The symmetry and simplicity of the Old Bridge had the power to impress and inspire twentieth-century travellers,as well: "I myself can say I have never been so impressed by another building as much as I have been by that bridge." (Michel, Auf der Sudostbastion unseres Reiches,1955.)

Over the time alternative accounts about the building of the bridge developed. Visitors and historians of the nineteenth century, associated the construction of the Old Bridge with the predecessors of the Turks. First a French diplomat attributed the building of the Old Bridge to the Greeks; according to him the Greeks of the Eastern Empire built the bridge in the twelfth century. Later on, the opinion prevailed that the bridge must be of Roman workmanship, on the ground that such a tall and solid single arch bridge made of big blocks, spanning a river so turbulent and wide, and with such steep banks, bore the stamp of Roman architecture.

The first author to name the Romans as the builders of the bridge was a French officer (Charles Pertusier, La Bosnie consideree dans ses rapports avec l’empire Ottoman, Paris, 1822). He was followed by many others, among them experts on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most of them attributed the building of the bridge either to the Emperor Trajan or Hadrian. Those assumption were justified by the belief that the Romans had built the bridge, because their road to Panonia led that way. One French author went so far as to calculate the alleged exact date of the construction of the Old Bridge - 98 BC; (Charles Yriarte, Bosnie et Herzegovine, Paris, 1876).

This belief was represented even by experts like the famous English Egyptologist and travellor Sir Gardener Wilkinson.

For the European authors of the second half of the nineteenth century it was an unquestionable fact that South Eastern Europe "had been in the hands of Asiatic barbarity for centuries" (Felix Kanitz, Srbija. Zemlja i stanovnistvo, Beograd, 1985), and the Turks themselves were simply "Asiatic barbarians in Europe."

Parallel to this perception of Turkey as a diminished and barbaric power were general doubts about Turkish ability in the fields of culture and architecture.

The belief in Roman workmanship of the bridge was finally dispatched by a German consul-general, who wrote: "From an architectural point of view, the whole bridge is of one piece and style, even the stones of the lowest layer that can be reached show no sign of an older foundation. Neither the bridge nor its surroundings contain any inscriptions, sculptures or other remnants of the Roman art" ( Otto Blau, Reisen in Bosnia und der Hertzegovina, Berlin, 1877).

In Europe the Old Bridge continued to be known as Romerbrucke (Roman Bridge), although its Turkish origin had been proved.


3.2.2 Physical Evidence

The Bridge built in 1566, had been entirely preserved to this days. The arch was 17.85m high (19m with the parapet); the full breadth from one span to the other was 27.34m, the width of the bed 38.50m and the breadth of the bridge 4.56m. These proportions gave the colossal structure its graceful lightness.

The bridge was built of limestone quarried from Bisce Polje, near Mostar: the stone blocks were linked by iron joints coated in lead, and joint together with mortar that had been mixed with the whites of eggs, the story goes...

The soul of Sultan Mehmed should be glad,

For it has left such a work of men’s hands,

And a homage also to Suleiman,

who ruled when the bridge was being finished.

By the efforts of the nazir the bridge was built

And the chronogram was written: "qudret kemeri".

(qudret kemeri=the arch of God Almighty)

These are the words of inscription cut into the middle of the Old Bridge arch, and the chronogram - in which if the numeric values of the letters are added together, following a sophisticated Arabic custom, the sum gives the year of construction of the bridge, that is the year 974 of Hejira. The construction of the bridge was therefore finished between 18 July and 4 September, 1566.

The destiny of the bridge changed dramatically in 1992. (3.22 page 48, 3.24-3.26 page 49 and 50). The fragments of shrapnel damaged the smooth firm stone. A futile effort to protect it from the occasional shelling with a makeshift wooden roof, black automobile tires and sandbags, imprinted one more image of itself into our memories, but couldn’t save the bridge.

In 1993 the white and ancient Bridge, across which men had passed for 427 years, would not seem to triumph once again, as it had always triumphed.

If earlier observers were reluctant to recognize the contributions of the Ottomans to Bosnian culture and erased the Ottoman past by re-attributing the bridge to other cultures, the solders of this war went one step further along this path by obliterating the bridge itself.

At 10.30 a.m., on Tuesday, 9.11.93, the bridge collapsed.(3.20 page 47 and 3.27 page 50) "The river swallowed it in a single morsel"(S.Drakulic, A Mostar Bridge Elegy, 1993)



3.2.3 Social Activities

Despite its role in history, the bridge has always been alive for new generations.

On the bridge, about it or in connection with it, flowed and developed, the life of the townsmen. In all tales about personal, family or public events the words "on the bridge" could always be heard. (I.Andric The Bridge on the Drina, 1945)

Indeed on the bridge over the Neretva were the first steps of childhood and the first games of boyhood. From the earliest years, peoples eyes grew accustomed to the lovely lines of this great stone structure built of shining porous stone, regularly and faultlessly cut. They knew all the tales and legends associated with the existence and building of the bridge, in which reality and imagination were mixed.

Between the skies, the river and the hills, generation after generation learnt not to mourn overmuch what the waters had borne away. They entered there into the unconscious philosophy of the town; that life was an incomprehensible marvel, since it was incessantly wasted and spent, yet none the less it lasted end endured "like the Bridge‘...

Thus the generations renewed themselves beside the bridge and the bridge shook from itself, like dust, all the traces which transient human events had left on it and remained, when all was over, unchanged and unchangeable.(I.Andric The Bridge on the Drina, 1945)

Without the regard for the change in way of living, the townspeople went on meeting there as they had done for centuries past, in those conversations which had always been a real need of their hearts and their imaginations

From time immemorial, bold youths have been diving from the Bridge into the Neretva, these twenty-meter jumps marking their transition from childhood into the company of mature men.

The Neretva is a fast and dangerous river (3.29 on page 52). When one jumps from the Old Bridge, one needs to know the exact location of the river whirlpool, the fortuitous depth which softens the impact.

The youths, following the achievements of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, continued to expose themselves to the mortal danger of the beauty of flying. Each summer new, wingless Icarians appeared, whose flights celebrated beauty and courage (3.30, 3.31 on page 53). The winning diver becomes the town’s hero for a year, someone whom everyone admires, and his craft is continued by his male offspring...

From the summer of 1990, the event became international, with divers from all over the world (Canada, Mexico, the USA, Italy and Great Britain) proving that courage is not the exclusive privilege of the young men of Mostar (3.28 page 52).





4.1 Evaluation of Significance

History and fabric provide the context for assessing cultural significance of the place. The significance assessment is made by applying evaluation criteria which measure the specific cultural attributes of the bridge, and are categorized into:

  • historic
  • aesthetic
  • social
  • scientific

These categories, however interdependent and overlapping, are the basis for the assessment of significance with Statement of Cultural Significance which follow:


4.1.1 Historic Significance

The historic values derive from the length of time the bridge existed and ‘operated’ on the site in unaltered original state; and from its association with prominent architects of the time. Naimly-Mimar Haireddin, and his master Kodja Mimar Sinan, the builder of another famous bridge in this area, the bridge at Visegrad.

The Bridge of Mostar was one of the most beautiful and famous achievements of the Golden Age of Turkish engineering and architecture in the Balkans.

It was representative structure from this period, which is single most important phase in development of the town, and which strongly influenced the way of leaving throughout centuries up to the contemporary time.

The Bridge in its primary purpose and function is part of historical process of the growth of the town and shows Government concern for community facilities.

"The bridge was exceptional both artistically and structurally, and was considered the most outstanding monument in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also came to represent the relations of mutual understanding between the various communities of the region. (UNESCO Director-General appeal for reconstruction of Mostar’s Bridge, Paris, 10 March 1994)

The life-span of the Old Bridge embraces more than four centuries, and presents the whole history of the town and its people.


4.1.2 Aesthetic Significance

Aesthetic value includes aspects of sensory perception for which criteria can and should be stated. Such criteria may include consideration of the form, scale, colour, texture and material of the fabric; the smells and sounds associated with the place and its use. (The Illustrated Burra Charter, Australia ICOMOS, 1992)

The bridge was of exceptional aesthetic value, in connection with both the natural phenomena of Neretva river and the surrounding urban construction.

The graciousness of the lines, its dizzying height and the harmony between his stone arch and natural landscape, arose admiration today, as in times long past, when the French traveler Poulet wrote that the Old Bridge was even more magnificent than the famous Rialto in Venice!

And yet today..It may sound bizarre and paradoxically, but even the ruins of the bridge look spectacular: white stones, green and foaming river, bold masses of surrounding mountains, blue Mediterranean sky... and to satisfy aesthetic appearance there is no need to change anything that misfortunate time had not already changed.

The sun shines over the roof tops of the old city, painting the stone houses white. The slightly swollen river, a rich, deep green, rubs along its banks like a lazy, satiated animal. Absent from this beauty, however, is the bridge. There’s the beginning of its long stone arch, but if that portion were only ten feet shorter, there would be no trace of the structure at all. Only the sheer logic of the place, a feeling that a bridge belongs there, over the river, between two halves of a medieval town, tells us that something is missing.(S.Drakulic A Mostar Bridge Elegy, New Republic, 1993)


4.1.3 Social Significance

The bridge was strongly linked with social life of town. How many of us, "in the course of centuries and the passage of generations, sat here in the dawn or twilight or evening hours (...) and have unraveled the threads of our small-town destinies... Someone affirmed long ago, that this bridge had had an influence on the fate of the town and even on the character of its citizens." (I.Andric Most na Drini)

Its social significance derives from the Community’s use of the bridge over the years, not only for crossing the river, but as a meeting place, as place to see and to be seen, the place where young boys prove their courage and skill by jumping into the river 20-22m bellow, and elderly come to get the breeze in hot summers nights.

The Bridge was highly social significant because of the role it played in the process of development the tolerance among different cultures within one nation.


4.1.4 Scientific Significance

The Bridge was a monument of exceptional value from the scientific aspect, representing a masterpiece of bridge construction (one stony arch span of 28.7m, with vault depth only 77cm) and architectural design.

Being entirely preserved, the bridge had great potential to contribute to an understanding of the early building techniques

Built in 16th century, the bridge was regarded as great achievement of Ottomans engineering and building techniques.

Had it been a question of its solidity and the skill of its construction it would have lasted a thousand years; yet it has melted away as if it had been made of wax...(I.Andric Na Drini cuprija, Belgrade, 1945)


4.2 Statement of Significance

This exceptionally valuable object of our cultural heritage not only gave Mostar its name (first time mentioned on 1st of June,1474), but also became its physical manifestation. (Neidhardt and Celic, Stari Most u Mostaru).

These are factors that contribute to the significance of the Old Bridge:


4.2.1 Historic (refer to section 3.2 & 4.1.1)

  • The bridge was one of the oldest and best known engineering structures in the world, built at the point where was crossing from time immemorial, and was continuously used for 427 years
  • Mimar Haireddin, prominent architects of the time designed the Old Bridge
  • The life span of the bridge and buildings within Old Town Precinct embraces five centuries (from 1474-1991) of construction and social change
  • The bridge and the whole complex provide a rare reflection of changes in way of living from the earliest day of town existence throughout the centuries to the present days


4.2.2 Aesthetic (refer to section 4.1.2)

  • The harmony of bridge with its built and natural surrounds presented site of rare aesthetic value, and example of good design in regard to scale, forms and material used
  • It presented a masterpiece of architectural design and building techniques.
  • The vistas quality to the Bridge and from the bridge to the river and beyond are outstanding
  • The bridge is one, though the most important, structure within Old Town Precinct. While valuable in its own right, the relationship to the other buildings is very significant


4.2.3 Social (refer to 3.2.1 & 4.1.3)

  • The Old Bridge with its towers, was the main focus of Mostar, not only for visitors, but for inhabitants as well
  • The Bridge was symbol of Mostar, of the region as well as of the whole country
  • The bridges are the most important symbols of Bosnian multicultural heritage.
  • The bridge is powerful symbol of connection, especially in this region, and a symbol of hope for peace
  • The bridge and the foreshore grounds are known site to the wider community, as a site of diving competition, which was to be international from 1990
  • The custom of jumping off the bridge, which survived until the bridge itself was destroyed, marked transition for local children from childhood into the company of mature men


4.2.4 Scientific (refer to 4.1.4)

  • The bridge had potential to yield information contributing to an understanding of the whole history of our country
  • Unique in the European sixteenth century architecture for the courage and beauty of its construction the bridge provided evidence of building technology from the time passed
  • The bridge with its original fabric enabled many aspects of early building design and construction to be demonstrated and understood.
  • As a monument to human inventiveness, knowledge and creativity, it was a material proof of the fact that civilized human beings are able to bridge even the most unbelievable spans




The past, remote in time, may never be revisited nor apprehended as reality. (Collingwood 1946 - reprint 1980)

The only real world is the present, and while we may create a reality which we call the past it is only our reality, it is the story we tell… We as human beings, live in a flat time world, our total reality is only an instant thick.

Nevertheless, it is the nature of human beings to want to build around us a round world, to push our reality forward and backwards through dimensions which ceased to exist or which do not yet exist, to create an intellectually, and emotionally satisfying living space. The forward dimension is relatively easy to construct, for it is made of the stuff of dreams. At the time we create it, it cannot be demonstrated by any means to be necessarily untrue. When we try to fill our living space out in the other direction, unlike the forward, this reverse dimension has built-in problems. Since we choose to broaden our reality backwards from the present we must find a way of dealing with known facts and worse still with truths which may not be compatible with our desirable, round, present. Furthermore, others known of these facts and some of the truths. The past then may be more an area of conflict than a piece of valuable equity.

The site may be seen as a physical link with the past, as somehow making the past present. So sites become symbols of collective cultural identity.

The value of Mostar constitutes significant symbol of tolerance and cohabitation between different cultures.

Around Mostar, within 50 kilometers, the important spots of the various religious groups are located: first, a Jewish that is the greatest of its kind in the whole of the former Yugoslavia - the grave and shrine of the Jewish rabbi Mose Danon in Stolac; second, a Moslem, equally unique, the Moslem monastery (tekija) at Buna (5.2 page 59); and third, the important East Orthodox monastery of Zitomislic. Finally, the greatest Catholic holy spot in this part of the world and one of the greatest in Europe, Medjugorje near Citluk.

All four places gathered their believers throughout the long series of years within which they existed near each other in the past, without conflict or incident between their diverse groups. In fact, there exists written information that the Monastery of Zitomislic, following traditional rules, gave monetary assistance to certain poor Moslem families in Stolac until the middle of this century.

Today these places are either threatened or in the case of Zitomislic flattened to the ground. Sacral heritage is especially singled out for destruction on account of its symbolic importance to the people (2.6, 2.8, 2.12, 2.13, 2.19, 2.26-2.29, page 14-26 and 5.1 page 59).

And Mostar has been devastated to its foundations, within a short period, intensive shelling of the town eliminated whole quarters, streets, bridges and structures of all types (5.3 and 5.4, page 60).



author of the text: Mirjana Mira Belanov

note about the author: Mirjana is from Mostar and she is an architect with a Master Degree in Building Conservation: she graduated at The University of New South Wales, Sydney 1996. Her graduation project was about rebuilding Mostar and its Bridge after the conflict.

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