Friday, 9 August 2013

The Jewel That Divides Two Cultures

A creamy limestone bridge spans the emerald-green Neretva River which meanders through a town nestled in the Balkans. The town is beautiful, its history, ugly.

The town of Mostar served as a trading post for the Ottoman Empire for many years.  In 1557, architect Mimar Hajrudin was commissioned, under threat of death, to build a bridge over the Neretva River.  He complied, but arranged to have his funeral on the day that the scaffolding came down in the event that he failed.  The architect was successful and the bridge remained standing for four and a half centuries.

Like Yugoslavia, the town of Mostar was a melting pot of cultures and religions:  Christian church spires dotted the skyline along with Muslim domes and Jewish synagogues.  The city also served as a geographic divider of East and West. Visitors to Mostar could stroll its cobblestone streets and buy Turkish coffee or Persian rugs from hospitable merchants.

With the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, countries behind the former Iron Curtain were struggling with their new-found independence.  In 1992, war came to the doorstep of the Balkan town.  On November 9, 1993, the beautiful bridge crumbled after being hit by Croatian artillery.   Yugoslavia would be at war for three years and see the country divided up into five parts:  Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Slovenia.

For years, the Mostar bridge sat in a state of disrepair, its limestone crumbling, tires hanging from its heights. Then in 2001, a plan fell into place to rebuild the bridge, at a cost of 5 million pounds, with aid from other countries.  It reopened in 2004, in a ceremony attended by princes, presidents and prime ministers.

While the war was over in Mostar, hostitilies were not.  As of 2004, one man reported that a pizza joint on one side of the river would not deliver pizza to Muslims on the other side.  Another resident said that you could not take the city bus across the old frontline from the Bosnian Conflict.  A bus driver from the Muslim east side explained:  I would drive to the other side if there was a need.  But hardly anyone goes from one side to the other.

In a move reminiscent of the American Deep South, the grammar school was segregated.  Begrudgingly, the school board were planning on opening the school to Muslims but on a separate floor than the Christians.

Still, the Mostar bridge spans the Neretva River in all its beauty, hoping to bridge the gap between east and west.

mostar, b & H

For more information, read my post The Cellist of Sarajevo dated February 14, 2013 at

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