May 30, 2013

Reconstruction of the old bridge in Mostar

The Mostar Bridge is one of the greatest masterpieces of structural engineering of the Ottoman times. It is part of the oldest nucleus of the town and has great environmental value in its urbanistic structure. Its specific position is harmonized with the natural configuration of the terrain, while its architectural value has been achieved by the usage of basic structural elements. The surrounding mountains leave a deep impression on the viewers, together with the deep river bed of the blue-green river Neretva and the houses characterized by the typical ambiance significance for the 15th and 16th centuries. The oldest written document about medieval Mostar dates back to the 15th century, before the advent of the Ottoman Empire’s administrative management. The document was the work of Duke Stjepan Radivoj, (a Herzegovian nobleman). Little is known about the building of the bridge. What remained written are only memories and legends, as well as the name of the great architect Hayruddin. Even nowadays, when parts of the bridge have been rescued from the Neretva and examined all the constituent parts of the bridge, there still remains the mystery of how the scaffolding was built, how the stone got transported from one side of the river to the other, how the scaffolding endured the long period of construction, as well as numerous other “minute” constructional problems, those that we encounter nowadays despite the usage of the most modern technologies at our disposal. This speaks for the high quality of the builder’s expertise, his idea, never to be repeated or written down but realized in a work that doubtlessly belongs to the greatest engineering undertakings of its time. There were no archaeological finds to be discovered in the position where the present bridge with its towers fortifying it on both banks stand, which might draw to the conclusion that the bridge with its fortifications and the settlement that belongs to it could be dated to earlier periods than the Late Middle Ages. The fortifications together with the bridge were invaded by the Ottoman Turks round 1470, and there they organized a military outpost for further military attacks in western Herzegovina and Dalmatia. During the time of Ottoman administration, near the fortifications on the bridge, particularly on the left bank of the Neretva, a trading-crafts centre started developing, the origin of today’s Mostar. The suspension bridge built in the Middle Ages continued to connect the two banks of the river Neretva, and the Turks continued using it until the middle of the 16th century. Along the rather ramshackle wooden suspension bridge, in 1557, due to the order of Sultan Suleiman ‘the Magnificent’, the construction of the single span, stone arch bridge was built according to the project of the then supreme Turkish architect Kodja Mimar Sinan, and by the year 1566 it was erected and completed by his pupil and assistant Mimar Hayruddin. The medieval towers on the banks that guarded the approach to the bridge from both sides of the river, were reconstructed and extended many times, at the time of the Ottoman administration and particularly at the time of the Candian war, but basically retained all their essential elements that they had been given, probably in the 15th century, by their medieval builders. Around the Old Bridge a community developed that was to become a trading and crafts centre.

During the period of the last fifty years, this site was subjected to numerous conservation and archaeological research undertakings. The conservation work was supposed to examine and restore damage on the bridge and its accompanying towers, as well as check on the data about their building that were partially preserved in the reports of the later travel writers and some scattered historical sources. In the course of the research and the restoration work, the foundations of the bridge and the river banks have been underpinned and consolidated, and the supportive parts of the bridge, together with the support pillars have been injected. The bridge arch has also been injected, and the damaged stone blocks exchanged. Lesser damage was repaired by mortar mixed from white cement and ground limestone that was used in building the bridge.

The Old Bridge in Mostar was destroyed by shelling in November 1993, in the course of the recent wartime events. Its rebuilding began in the year 2002 under the auspices of the World Bank and the Bank for Development of the Council of Europe, with funds donated by countries like Italy, Turkey, Croatia, The Netherlands and France. After two years since the beginning of its restoration and almost 15 million US dollars spent, the work is approaching its end. The main responsibility lay upon the Turkish company ERBU, specialized for the restoration of Ottoman bridges, working under permanent supervision of specialized Croatian companies and experts. From the oldest times up to the present, the Old Bridge has remained the symbol of Mostar. The bridge also remains a permanent attraction for the population as well as tourists. The tradition of taking jumps from the top of the arch into the river also remains a symbol that will be transferred to future generations.

Stamp Issue: 2004.07.23

No comments: