(continuer en français) – Published: November 20, 2022
If it wasn’t for its bridge, Mostar would be an obscure Balkan town. 100,000 inhabitants in a valley divided by a river, the Neretva. The river is a border, not a political border, worse, a religious border. The Ottoman Empire that stretched out here for centuries left pockets of Muslim populations, facing Catholics and Orthodox. As in Sarajevo, the break-up of Yugoslavia stirred up the religious dividing lines, with each community trying to control territories often under mixed occupation.
In Mostar, the Catholic Croats pushed the Muslim Bosnians back to the left bank and cut the bridges, including the historic bridge.
In November 1993, the last bridge over the Neretva was destroyed, the Stari Most, the Old Stone Bridge dating from the Ottomans in 1566.
During the Bosnia and Herzegovina war (1992-1995), Mostar was disputed between the Croats and the Bosnians, each securing hegemony on one side of the river, while the Serbs controlled the higher ground. Today, communications have been re-established and confrontations are held through elections, but the three communities continue to maintain a suspicious relationship.
On July 22, 2004, the bridge was officially reopened after it was rebuilt with the stones that had fallen into the river, including the slabs that make up the characteristic covering of its deck.
Between tradition and competition, diving from the bridge has always been at the heart of a certain passion. However, the 29-metre height requires a minimum of preparation. Every year a diving competition is held here, even adding a tower to the centre of the bridge to increase its height.
In order to make some money from tourists, locals sometimes jump from the bridge. However, visitors wishing to do so must prove their abilities, even by practising from the diving board available downstream.
The old town
Around the bridge, a merchant town developed during the Ottoman Empire. Although it suffered from fighting during the Bosnian War, enough buildings were repaired to retain the old character around the bridge. In particular, there were two fortified complexes at each end. Mosques followed, mainly on the north bank where the Muslim quarter grew. The Muslibegovic house is a fine example of a well-preserved old house.
The two lanes leading to the bridge are now dedicated to the typical tourist trade. This adds colour and excitement, to the point of distracting attention from the historic buildings. In addition to ice cream vendors and restaurants, there are many shops selling items reminiscent of oriental bazaars.
Religious divisions continue to play a role in the lives of Mostar’s inhabitants. This gives rise to the construction of new places of worship whose size and location create controversy. Minarets and bell towers compete for the city’s skies and help locate the districts occupied by each.
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