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Targeting History

Targeting History

Issue 91 April 2012

The destruction of the Old Bridge of Mostar was an act of violence which, argues Arub Saqib, attempted to not only physically break the connections within Bosnia, but also to destroy any symbol of Bosnia’s Ottoman Muslim heritage.


On 9th November 1993, the Croatian Council of Defence (CCD) began to attack the Old Bridge of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sixty missiles hit the bridge during two days of constant shelling. The bridge was rendered unusable after the first day of attack, but the merciless shelling continued until almost every last stone of the structure had collapsed into the depths of the gushing Neretva river below. After the attack, only a gaping void remained between the two halves of Mostar—the Balkan Muslim population on one side, and the Croat Catholics on the other. Mostar’s bridge was violently erased from the heart of the city.


Bridges are powerful symbols of connection. In Bosnia, a country playing host to a mix of cultures and religions, this symbol is significant. At the centre of the town flows the Neretva, cutting its way down the Herzegovina landscape. It is the crossing of this river that has given the town of Mostar its name—mostar literally means ‘old bridge’.


Mostar became a part of the Ottoman Empire when it was still a small hamlet. The oldest preserved Ottoman land and taxation register from 1477 describes Mostar as a settlement of 19 households of civilians, all Christian, and a garrison of 25 men—Balkan Muslims, guarding the towers around the old bridge. Its first mosque was built in 1520, constructed near the old bridge for the needs of the garrison. By 1560, the population of Mostar increased to 513 households. There were libraries, theological institutes, mosques, primary schools, soup kitchens for the poor and travellers, and a thriving civil infrastructure. It was during this time that the old rickety wooden bridge which had given Mostar its name was commissioned to be rebuilt in stone by Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent, upon request of the town’s population.


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