Mostar's 'Old Bridge' gets spectacular reopening

 

The city of Mostar, a symbol like Sarajevo of the bloody end of Yugoslavia, today joyfully unveiled its rebuilt 16th-century bridge which some hope can help reconcile its Muslims and Croats.

Almost 11 years after Bosnian Croat artillerymen shelled it to destruction, the new "Stari Most" (Old Bridge) was officially inaugurated at a spectacular ceremony attended by international guests and delegations.

Fireworks lit up the sky high above the elegant single-span bridge at the end of a programe which featured Beethoven's "Hymn of Joy" and nine of Mostar's legendary divers jumping into the green rushing waters of Neretva with torches in their hands.

More than 2,000 people took part in the programme, including traditional Bosnian folk dancers, children choirs and brass bands from both parts of the ethnically divided town and leading Bosnian classic and popular music figures.

Hundreds of Mostar citizens and tourists also watched the programme perched in houses and cafes around the bridge in Mostar's Oriental Stari Grad (Old Town).

Presidents and prime ministers from neighbouring Balkan states, French and Italian Foreign Ministers Franco Frattini and Michel Barnier, and European Union external affairs commissioner Chris Patten were present.

Officials of the World Bank and the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, who led the reconstruction project, also attended.

The destruction of the architectural treasure was a major blow to the city and a low point for morale.

Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century and a survivor of centuries of conflict, the "Old Bridge" was a powerful symbol of multiculturalism and ethnic tolerance.

During the 1992-1995 conflict, however, Croats and Muslims fought each other for 11 months in the capital of Herzegovina - the second largest city in Bosnia -Herzegovina.

On November 9th, 1993, the battered monument collapsed into the river after withstanding months of Serbian, then Croatian onslaught.

In 1994, Unesco launched an appeal to recreate the 30-metre long, 20-metre high humpbacked bridge and work by Turkish company ER-BU began in 2001.

The multi-million pound reconstruction work was done using some of the original stone recovered from the river bed.

The rest was taken from the same quarry used to build the first one 500 years ago and crafted using traditional methods.