Stari Most – Mostar’s Old Bridge
How many photos of bridges can I get away with taking (and sharing on Facebook)? The Stari Most (Old Bridge) of Mostar is an incredibly photogenic subject. From every angle, at different times of day… it’s easy to get to the end of the day and find that you’ve taken a ridiculous number of photos of just this one site.
A friend of mine – Mostar born and bred by now living in London – says that the bridge is like his muse. He has painted it, created numerous etchings and prints, created stylised versions of its graceful arc, as well as photographed it (along with the intensely aquamarine waters of the Neretva River below) more times than he can probably count. This obsession has endured since his childhood here.
Last Saturday was the twenty-year anniversary of the destruction of the Stari Most. This article gives some interesting historical and contemporary context for what the bridge means for many of the people in Mostar.
When I lived in Mostar in 1998, there was a temporary suspension bridge spanning the Neretva at the place where the Old Bridge had stood. It sometimes felt like a precarious crossing – it would sway in response to people’s weight and movements as they crossed, and frankly, it never felt all that safe. It was easy to imagine slipping through the wide chain-link barriers, although I never heard of that happening to anyone. People would joke about how the sense of swaying increased if you crossed it when drunk, late at night. At that time in Mostar there were many stray dogs that used to hang around in packs (like street gangs of youths – but they were dogs). A friend told me a story about walking home late one night, a bit drunk, and crossing the bridge only to see the pack of dogs waiting for him at the end of the bridge. It was winter time, and the dogs were known to be hungry and aggressive. My friend made a sharp about-face and sprinted back the way he’d come, the bridge swaying relentlessly. He opted to go the long way home, via a different, more stable bridge.
Later that year, a new, sturdier temporary bridge was built. This was in preparation for the reconstruction of the Stari Most, using stones that had been salvaged from the river when it was destroyed in shell fire in 1993, as well as new stones from the quarry that had provided stones for the original Stari Most in Ottoman times. This new wooden bridge was wider, and a couple of metres further upriver, so that the reconstructed bridge could be built in the original place, using the original mounts and towers.
But many people said they missed the dodgy, wobbly suspension bridge. Perhaps it represented that time after the war had first ended, when people could come out of their basements and move a little more freely, and the optimism and relief that accompanied that time. The suspension bridge also represented something of the toughness and hardiness of the people. It was a solution, a place to cross the river, a kind of defiance.
The reconstructed bridge opened in summer 2004. Local people have described to me how so many of the people that had left Mostar to escape the war returned for that occasion. The bridge is not just a beautiful piece of architecture and engineering, nor is it just a landmark. The bridge represents something about that emotional sense of belonging, and of protection, perhaps. The bridge is Mostar, Mostar is the bridge. Something like that, maybe. In any case, perhaps this is the reason that so many of us seem to experience a kind of insatiable appetite for images of this bridge that we can take away with us, and share with others.