Turkey and Bosnia Agree to Rebuild Historic Landmark

A HISTORIC 16th century bridge, casualty of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, will be restored.

On Feb. 7, Turkish Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin signed an agreement with Bosnian Culture Minister Enes Drakovic in Ankara, Turkey, to rebuild the Old Bridge over the river Neretva, which flows through Mostar.

Listed as a historic monument by UNESCO, the 427-year-old bridge was destroyed by Croat shelling in November 1993.

Mr. Cetin says the two countries will seek international funding for the task, but added that Turkey will foot the entire bill if necessary. No estimate on the cost of rebuilding was available.

The graceful old arch was built over the Neretva when the Ottoman empire ruled the Balkans. In 1557, during the reign of Sultan Suleiman, the Turkish architect Hairudin was commissioned to replace an old timber bridge. The structure he built, known now as Stari Most - Old Bridge - was constructed of white limestone and mixes Roman, Gothic, and Ottoman architecture. A hundred feet wide, it took nine years to complete.

Old Bridge was originally built as a trade link between the Muslim and Croat communities that existed on either side of the river, says Michael Lustig, an Eastern Europe expert. ``It is beautifully constructed cobblestone, and in fact as you walk over it, the steps are rather uneven,'' Dr. Lustig says.

Since it was built, the bridge has survived four centuries of earthquakes and war, and in recent years the wear and tear of thousands of tourists.

``But it was much more than an attraction for tourists,'' says Jeff Spurr, cataloger for Islamic art in the Aga Khan program at Harvard University. ``It was one of the premier architectural monuments of all of Yugoslavia. It was built in one semicircular curve, spanning the river in one arch. The bridge, by definition, symbolized connectedness.

``The bridge was the focus for much of the ceremonial and festive life of the city,'' Mr. Spurr adds. ``Diving contests were held on holidays, and it was the corridor for constant movement between the two halves of the city.''

The town of Mostar - meaning ``keeper of the bridge'' - is in southern Bosnia and is divided mainly between Croats and Muslims.

Before the war, ``ethnic restrictions had become nominal in modern-day Bosnia'' Spurr says. ``Mostar itself had a 35 percent intermarriage rate, and with the impact of 20th century modernization and 40-odd years of Communist rule, religion had played an exceedingly minor role in the lives of most of the people.''

During the first year of the Bosnian conflict, known in Mostar as the first war, Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces joined together to ward off the Bosnian Serb threat. But the Croats turned on their former allies last May and began fighting for control of Mostar. The fighting continues.

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