As the lagoon blue Neretva river cascades under the elevated rainbow-esque arch, a muezzin’s ezan prayer resonates from a nearby mosque; through Mostar’s cobbled Ottoman quarter and across the bank. There, in a quaint cafe, the sizzling scent of Bosnian ‘turkish coffee’ becomes airborne as a pot of boiling water hits the cup of roasted coffee beans.
Forged from the local pale tenelija stone, the Stari Most, or ‘Old Bridge’ is a poignant symbol to humanity, let alone an architecturally implausible feat.
It stood, against the expectation of its complex structure, for 427 years – only to be destroyed strategically by Bosnian Croats in 1993 as they attacked the Muslim Bosniaks on the Neretva’s eastern bank. Both were formally allied against Serbia’s marauding troops, though a Croat thirst for Bosnian territory led to mutiny.
Human nature is to see those deemed foreign as inherently different beings. Our history reveals an innate desire to conquer, to subjugate ‘others’ and expand territories. An aversion to coalesce and instead to see geography and religion as barriers, rather than markers of cultural diversity, is a commonality of our past, and present behaviours.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a jostling for land space, where religious differences have been considered too great to tether a cooperative state, but instead has engendered a two-state solution. It is set amongst wider sectarian conflict in the Middle-east, where even variation in interpretation within a religion has led to conflict.
In India, at the end of the lush green lawn in the shadow of Shimla’s Viceregal Lodge, stands the hollowed out statue of a dancing girl. She symbolises the cultural paradox of India’s partition, where the mother of the Indus valley civilization, Mohenjo daro, now lies in Pakistan whereas great Islamic monuments like the Taj Mahal now reside in India.
The girl represents the ‘presence of the absence,’ where a fervour for national identity, on religious grounds, has left a void, in the same way that borders can dismiss humanity’s collaborative and revering role as citizens of the world as a whole.
For Bosnians and Herzegovinians, their present is a shared vision toward developing their country. A multitude of mosques, synagogues and orthodox churches stand among the abandoned shell-shocked buildings and bullet-marked shops in its capital, Sarajevo. They may have different faiths, but that does not cloud their realisation for a universal goal as Bosnia emerges from its past.
With its destruction Mostar was divided, and the town became the poster of the war in Bosnia. Large cemeteries with tombstones dated to 1993 appear along its inner streets. In 2004, the Stari Most was rebuilt, replicating the methods used by its 16th century architect Mimar Hayruddin. With its reconstruction it has come to define the Bosnian spirit.
From the gardens of the Koski Mehmed-Pasa mosque, the darkened outline of a cross can be seen through the mountain mist behind the Stari Most. While the memory of war remains lucid, the message of Bosnia’s future is now stronger; to bridge across differences, and to develop through unification.