Stari Most (Old Bridge), 1566 to today

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  1. Stari Most was built in 1566 (the construction began in 1557) by Mimar Hajruddin, a student of Kodja Mimar Sinan (Ottoman architect). The construction was ordered in 1557 by Suleiman the Magnificent, the tenth Emperor of the Ottoman Empire (ruling from 1520 to 1566).
  2. The city of Mostar is first referred to by that name in a 1474 document and “mostar,” like the word “mostari,” translates into “bridge-keeper/s.” The bridge in place during this time and before the construction of Stari Most was a wooden, unstable, and fragile suspension bridge.
  3. Stari Most took a lot of damage during the war and finally fell into the river on November 9, 1993 when it was hit by a Croatian tank shell. The commander of the Croatian Defense Council, Slobodan Praljak, is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for allegedly ordering the destruction of the bridge, among other charges.
  4. In October 1998, UNESCO established an international committee of experts to overlook the reconstruction of Stari Most. Today, Stari Most is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  5. Stari Most was rebuilt to be a symbol for peace and ethnic harmony of Mostar and the country, as it had been in the past. The reconstruction began on June 7, 2001 and was completed on July 23, 2004. The completion was celebrated with music, dancing, and guests from around the world.
  6. The reconstruction of Stari Most involved using as much of the original material as possible and shaping the material using original techniques. Stones were raised from the river bed and the missing parts were cut from the same quarry where the original stones came from.
  7. Today, Mostar is the fourth largest city in the country (after Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Zenica) and the largest in Herzegovina (above Trebinje) with the 2005 estimated population of 68,000 (municipality: 111,000). The official population census of the entire country is set for October of 2013.
  8. The 140 miles long Neretva River flow below Stari Most. Diving into the Nervetva River from the Stari Most has been tradition from the time it was built. However, the first recorded instance of diving dates back to 1664. A formal diving competition was started in 1968.
  9. Stari Most is four meters wide and thirty meters long, standing twenty meters above the maximum water level in Neretva River during the summer. The watchtowers over the ends of the bridge, both of which date back to the 17th century, are the Halebija Tower on the right bank and the Tara Tower on the left bank.
  10. Stari Most was one of the greatest architectural works of its time. In the 17th century, the traveler Evliya Celebi wrote that the bridge “is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. . . . I, a poor and miserable slave of God, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky.”
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King Stephen Tvrtko, 1353 to 91

After Ban Stephen Kotromanic died in 1353 (ruling since 1322), he left Bosnia an independent, prosperous, and powerful state. The stability of the country would still depend on the cooperation of the noble families. The nephew of Ban Kotromanic, King Stephen Tvrtko was fifteen when he came to power in 1353 and thus could not have had the skills to ensure that cooperation. The Hungarian king was keen to exploit the possible divisions and regain the territories for himself. From 1353 to 1367, Tvrtko had to deal with Bosnian revolts and seizures of land by Hungary. However, after 1367, Hungary became more concerned with events north of Hungary and Tvrtko was left without further trouble from Hungary. Under Tvrtko, Bosnia expanded to include a large strip of territory adjoining Bosnia to the south and south-east (parts of Hum, Zeta, southern Dalmatia, and a section of the coast between Ragusa and the Bay of Kotor). Further details of the expansion are a subject for other articles.

Below is a very good map of that expansion. Also note the shaded area which was Bosnia under Ban Kulin.

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Before Ban Kulin

Going through the chapter on pre-1180 Bosnia of Noel Malcolm’s “Bosnia: A Short History,” I picked up a few facts I found especially important:

  1. Few individuals in the Balkan peninsula can claim a racially pure ancestry.
  2. During the past two centuries Balkan politics has been filled with bogus theories of racial ethnic identity.
  3. In the sixth and seventh century, the Slav invasion established a linguistic identity which would eventually replace all others. By the 620s, a Slav population was well established in modern Bulgaria, Serbia, and probably penetrated much of Bosnia too.
  4. The Slavs encountered the Illyrians who were later absorbed into the population. (Illyrians covered much of modern Yugoslavia and Albania and spoke an Indo-European language related to modern Albanian.)
  5. Archaeological evidence from Bosnia suggest that the Illyrian tribes were stock-breeders, specializing in sheep, pigs, and goats.
  6. As the Romans extended their power in the first and second century, they encountered the Scordisci (a mixed Illyrian-Celtic grouping) in north-east Bosnia. In central Bosnia, they encountered the Daesitates, a warlike tribe whose last rebellion against the Roman Empire was finally crushed in AD 9.
  7. After the Romans extended their power and the Illyrian lands were firmly under Roman rule, a network of roads and Roman settlements was gradually established.
  8. Several roads ran across Bosnia from the coastal town of Salona (near Split). Although these were mainly used for military operations, they also severed as delivery routes for the gold, silver, and lead which were mined in eastern Bosnia.
  9. Christianity came quickly to Roman towns and the first bishops are mentioned as early as the late first century in Sirmium in Pannonia (a few miles beyond the north-eastern corner of modern Bosnia). The earliest phase of Bosnian Christianity came to an abrupt end with the invasion of the Goths.
  10. The Germanic tribe of Goths began raiding the Roman Balkans in the third century inflicting massive defeats to the Roman armies.
  11. In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian drove out the Goths. Any Goths which remained were quickly absorbed into the population.
  12. Charlemage’s Franks conquered northern Croatian territory and much of northern and north-western Bosnia in the late eight and early ninth centuries. It remained under Frankish rule until the 870s. In this period, the old tribal system in Bosnia (and Croatia too) began to be remodeled in a form of west European feudalism.
  13. The ethnic identity of the Bosnians is Slavs who lived in Bosnia. Applying the modern notion of Croat identity (something constructed in recent centuries out of religion, history, and language) to anyone in this period is anachronism.

The thirteen points listed present a good starting point of ideas for studying more deeply the pre-1180 history of Bosnia.

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Ban Kulin, 1180 to 1204

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It is difficult to find good maps on medieval Bosnia, but here is one that is fairly good. The pink and orange on the top are the areas that were under the control of Ban Kulin. (“Ban” is a term used in medieval Bosnia for ruler). After the death of Byzantine ruler Emperor Manuel Comnenus in 1180, Bosnia become a, more or less, independent state under Kulin. Kulin ruled from 1180 to 1204 and acquired a legendary status in Bosnian history.

Kulin strengthened the economic situation of the country by signing a commercial treaty with Dubrovnik (Ragusa, at the time) in 1189. Besides the economic situation, he also strengthened the relations with Herzegovina (Hum, at the time). If that was not enough for the people to love him, it was the fact that he brought twenty-four years of peace to Bosnia.

In 1921, historian William Miller was writing about the Bosnian attitude towards Kulin: “Even today, the people regard him as a favorite of the fairies, and his reign as a golden age, and to ‘talk of Ban Kulin’ is a popular expression for one who speaks of the remote past, when the Bosnian plum-trees always groaned with fruit and the yellow corn-field never ceased to wave in the fertile plains.”

Manuel Comnenus’s secretary in the 1180s wrote: “Bosnia does not obey the grand zupan of the Serbs; it is a neighbouring people with its own customs and government.”

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