The Ottomans conquered Mostar in 1463 and brought Islamic influences and urban growth to the small town straddling the banks of the Nerevta River. Emperor Suleyman the Magnificent ordered a new bridge to be built over the water, a stone structure designed by famed architect Sinan. The bridge, known as the Stari Most, transformed Mostar into a thriving junction between east and west. Nestled in a mountainous region of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar retained a certain degree of autonomy from the empire and was characterized by ethnic diversity and religious tolerance. In the centuries that followed, Mostar developed architecturally and culturally under the rule of the Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, and Socialists. The population catapulted from 18,000 to 100,000 between 1945 and 1980, but this growth did not overshadow Mostar’s history. The city received a prestigious award for preservation work from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 1986. Less than a decade later, Croatian tanks obliterated many of Mostar’s historic buildings and 75 percent of its housing. The Stari Most was among the structures that collapsed, a symbolic defeat of the city’s cultural openness.
2000 and 2002 World Monument Watch
WMF placed the Historic District of Mostar on the 2000 and 2002 Watch in response to conflict in the region. Involvement with Mostar began even earlier when WMF partnered with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in 1997 to support conservation efforts in the city. The two organizations created a priority list of 21 sites to be restored and submitted the Conservation and Development Plan for the Old Town, which was adopted by the government. The first WMF-sponsored project in Mostar was the sixteenth-century Stari Most. Fallen pieces of the bridge were retrieved from the river and the entire structure was repaired. Restoration was finished in 2004. WMF realized the need to preserve not only the bridge but also its urban context and surroundings. Because of this, the neighborhoods that flank Stari Most on both banks have been conserved, and a number of other projects have been completed throughout the city.
The name Mostar means “bridge keeper,” revealing the importance of the Stari Most to the identity of the surrounding town. The bridge was and still is a literal connector of people and places. It stood as a symbol of civic peace for centuries before its destruction in 1993 and now stands again as a result of commitment on every level, from local to international. The bridge and the historic district of Mostar constitute a rich architectural history that has been illuminated once again by conservation. The religious tolerance and diversity of Mostar is demonstrated through the presence of many types of sacred structures: mosques, Catholic churches, and Orthodox churches. Despite conflict and cultural terrorism that plagued the city, Mostar remains a cultural crossroads.