Scar by the Ottomans in the 16th

Scar Tissues in a Post-Traumatic City – The City of Mostar as a Case


Mostar is the cultural capital of Herzegovina region and one the most
important cities of Bosnia-Herzegovina1. Situated on the Neretva River, the city is
most famous for The Old Bridge –
Stari Most, built by the Ottomans in the 16th
century. The bridge is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable
landmarks, an extraordinary example for the Islamic architecture in the Balkans
under the ottomans rule. Sadly, Mostar is also known for its bloody
history during the Bosnian civil war following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The Bosnian
civil was one of the bloodiest and most horrendous conflicts that followed the
1990’s Yugoslavian breakup, Due to Bosnia’s unique ethnic and religious
division between Muslim Bosnian (Bosniaks), catholic Bosnian Croats and
orthodox Bosnian Serbs.


Figure 1: Mostar
and the Old Bridge – Stari Most2



Mostar, was
sieged twice during the Bosnian War, first in
1992 and later from 1993 to 1994. In 1992, after Bosnia and
Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia, fighting broke between
the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s
Army (JNA) on one side and the rising-up Croatian
Defence Council (HVO) and the Army
of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH),
on the other side. In the first time, the JNA had put siege upon Mostar, which
had lasted for 3 months, until it was broken by the Croatian Army (HV) and HVO. As a result of the siege, around
90,000 of Mostar’s residents have fled, and numerous buildings with cultural and historical heritage were damaged or


After the battles against the JNA were won, Bosniaks and Bosnian
Croats, supported by the Croatian army, began to
aim their arms against each other. Between June 1993 and April1994 the Croat
forces besieged the mainly Bosniak East Mostar, resulting in the deaths of
about 2,000 individuals and the devastation of large parts of the city. With the
signing of the Washington Agreement and
the establishment of the Croat–Bosniak federation in 1994 the war
came to an end. 4




Figure 2: Map
of Mostar’s partition, 1992-19955


all cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is considered to have suffered the
largest damage during the war. The most affected areas were the Bosniak neighbourhoods
in East Mostar and the Bosniak part of west Mostar, where around 75 percent of
buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Croat populated West Mostar was
less affected, with about 20 percent of buildings severely damaged or
destroyed, mostly along the frontline. In total, it is estimated that 6,500 of
the city’s 17,500 housing units were affected.6

ethnic cleansing atrocities, committed by both Croats and Bosniaks, Mostar’s ethnic groups segregated sharply between the two banks of the Neretva River. Before
the war, the Mostar municipality had a population of 43,037 Croats, 43,856
Bosniaks, 23,846 Serbs and 12,768 Yugoslavs. As of 2013, following the general
population displacement between the new Yugoslavian nations after the war, there
were 51,216 Croats, 46,752 Bosniaks, and only 4,421 Serbs and no Yugoslavs residing in

the war, Major parts of the urban space lay in ruin and in many cases, were
left dysfunctional. A large part of Mostar’s rich multicultural architectural
heritage, comprising of an Orthodox church and cemetery, partisan cemetery,
Austro-Hungarian style buildings, Ottoman bridges, churches and mosques, was
destroyed or damaged.89
The Stari Most, the city’s symbol, and an important social focal point for
generations, also fell victim to the war, and was destroyed by the Croat forces
on 9 November 1993. The loss of the
bridge has become a symbol to the ferocity of the war and schism between the
city’s inhabitants.10


Figure 3: The
Ruined bridge11


Since the end of the war in 1995, great progress has been
made in the reconstruction of the city of Mostar. When rehabilitating a city
that is still under severe ethnic tension, Architectural choices have a great
influence on the community’s perception of itself and its ability to unite and
overcome past events. In bringing the city back to a functioning state, there
was an urgent necessity to reconstruct not only the functional public
buildings, but also to restore some of Its distinctive multicultural urban characteristics.
This was done by restoring destroyed monuments and building new symbolic buildings.


architecture is a term to describe architecture that has a strong affiliation
with a culture or an ideology, or architecture which expresses a general value.

In the years to come after the war, although the violent hostility was over, the
city remained divided along ethnical lines. The ethnical division was further
aggravated by the Interim Statute of 1996, which sub-divided Mostar into six
city-municipalities: three with Croat majority, 3 with Bosniak majority, and
one neutral central zone, controlled by a mixed government that included the
centre of Mostar and the Old city12. In this layout, all aspects
of public life were divided: healthcare, sanitation, education and even
telecommunication and postal services. This arrangement continued until 2004,
when The New Statute was declared, and all 6 municipalities were united.13

the town was divided into many municipalities during the city’s reconstruction,
the rebuilding of Mostar was a fertile soil for tension between the banks and
the ethnic groups. The attempt of restoring the cultural symbolic architecture
of the city before the war, soon turned into a wrestling arena where the
municipalities competed in rebuilding symbolic venues affiliated with their
dominant ethnic identities.14


symbols built and rebuilt by Croats municipalities had a major effect on the
city. The first monument that was built was Hill Hum’s Jubilee Cross, this
33-meter-high cross, located on the hill overlooking the city, was built in
celebration of the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, as
a symbol of peace. This initiative was interpreted by the Bosniaks as a cynical
provocation; not only that the symbol of the Christianity was dominating the
city, but also it was placed on Hum hill, from which both VRS and HVO shelled
the town.  Another example for the Croats’ provocative symbolic architecture is the
Franciscan bell tower. After it was rebuilt, it was 107 meters high – twice its
previous size. These two new symbolic structures dominate the urban skyline,
and are visible from all parts of the city. The population of the eastern bank
naturally does not see these buildings favourably, and regards them as a
declaration of power and dominance on the entire city.

though the Muslim Municipalities did not build or reconstruct dominating or
intrusive monuments, the eastern part of the city did get a predominantly
Islamic character.

only were the mosques that were destroyed during the war rebuilt, but also
mosques whose remains were found during the reconstruction of the city.
Consequently, whereas before the war there were only sixteen mosques in Mostar,
after restorations there were 38 active mosques throughout the city. Needless
to say, the Croats accused the Bosniaks of trying to take control of the urban

Figure 3: Stari
Most under reconstruction, 200315


Stary Most, was part of the local folklore and a cultural touchstone of the
community. More importantly, it was a symbol for peace – the physical and
conceptual link between the people of the city. In
1999, a project to rebuild the Old Bridge and its surrounding area in the old
town (Stari Grad) was initiated. With the academic, technological and financial
aid from the west, the bridge rebuilt, using the original materials and
technology. In addition, a network of urban conservation schemes and individual
restoration projects was established in the historic part of Mostar,
particularly the urban tissue around the Old Bridge. In 2004, the
reconstruction project was completed.16 Yet, there is even
disagreement concerning structures that have been an integral part of the city
for generations. Among the Croat community, some opposed the restoration of the
Stari Most, the city’s symbol and heart, since it was built by the Ottoman
Empire, and as such imposing a Muslim heritage on the city17. In fact, that is the reason
why the bridge was destroyed in the first place.


Figure 4:
Border of the area proposed for inscription on the map from the “Urban Heritage
Map of Mostar and rehabilitation of Stari Grad”, UNESCO, 199718


Figure 4: Stari
Most under reconstruction, 200319


These examples show the double agency of symbolic
architecture in a divided city. The restoration of symbolic buildings enables
the city’s communities to express their architectural and cultural uniqueness. Yet,
instead of expressing the city’s multi-cultural and diverse heritage and
uniting the community under a shared history, these cases testify to the
opposite effect: The symbolic architecture is used as a declaration of ethnic
dominance and only increases the division of the city into two different, ethno-nationalistic monocultural entities.

 Thus, it seems that as long as the symbolic
architecture is limited in essence to the characteristics of the city’s ethnic
groups, it will create alienation and tension between the banks. Hence, the
creation of a new architectural ethos, which will be a symbol of peace and
unity, is needed. An attempt of doing so was in the installation of a
real-sized statue of Bruce Lee. This statue was the first Bruce Lee monument in
the world, and was launched on November 26, 2005, the day that would have been
Bruce Lee’s 65th birthday20. The purpose of the project
was to intervene in the public sphere by placing a symbol which would be free
of affiliation.21
A monument that will be acceptable by all ethnic, religious or political
groups. The monument depicts Bruce Lee in defensive position. During the design
of the statue, its initiators had to pay attention to which direction the
statue would face, so that it would not be interpreted as Bruce addressing one
of the city’s ethnic groups. It was therefore decided that the statue would
turn north. Shortly after its launch, the statue was vandalized, removed for
repairs and returned at 201322. The Bruce Lee statue is a charming
yet strange demonstration of how difficult it is to create a new architectural
narrative for such a divided community.


Figure 5: Statue
of Bruce Lee, Ivan Fijoli?, Zrinjski Park 23


The cultural heritage of Mostar is rich in complex narratives
that are hundreds of years old and influenced by nearby cultures and historical
events. In order to create an entirely new narrative, one must choose between
two choices: The first is to find similarities, either symbolic or visual,
between the cultural legacies of the two dominant ethnic groups, then unite
them into a common eclectic narrative. This possibility, in a reality in which
there is hostility between the various groups, is liable to arouse the wrath of
both feuding groups when each will see their missing half in the new born
narrative, rather than the unified whole. The second option, similar to the
example of Bruce Lee’s statue, is to create a non-contextual architectural
language. In my opinion, there is no need to go as far as using eccentric icons
from foreign cultures, but rather to build public buildings that express values
of peace and unity, by ??pragmatic manners, using material and abstract

 The preservation of the collective memory of the war is
another necessity in a post-civil war nation, so that the faults and mistakes that
caused war will not reoccur. In Mostar’s case, there is no doubt that the
memories and the events of the war are still fresh in the collective memory. In
fact, tension and division is inherent in the current sense of community. Yet for this exact
reason, it is precisely at this time that the consequences of war should be
pointed out.

The destruction of the old bridge is a landmark event in the history
of the civil war, as an example of inhumanity and alienation. In this sense,
the decision to reconstruct the old bridge as it once was suppressed and even
erase this historic event. Since the bridge was reconstructed, there is still a
question whether the architects should have left a trace of the historic event.
These days, the only visible mark that can be seen in the pubic space is a
rock, with the caption “Don’t Forget ’93”. This phrase, as strong as it is, is
not unique and site-specific or refers to a specific event, and can be seen in
several places around town. One could argue that more architectural means, even
subtle, should have been taken to stress out that the current bridge is not the
original and that it is built over the ruins of the original.


Figure 6: 
‘Don’t Forget ’93’ memorial rock at the Stari Most24


Outside the old town the story is utterly different. The
entire urban space is scared with marks
of war. Bullet marks can be seen everywhere, and there are still buildings left
in ruin. These massive dead skeleton structures seem as though they froze in time
since the war. Unintendedly, they are monumental memorials of the war, shadowing their environments with their violent
presence. In the urban context, even in the renovated and reconstructed
old parts of the city, the war is still very present. Not only by physical
proximity to the ruins, but by the detachedness and alienation of
this beautiful jolly toy town to its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Figure 7: 
Ruined Building in Mostar


20 years since the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is
gradually recovering. Nevertheless, the shocking images of the civil war in
Bosnia, the genocide, the concentration camps, the extent of the destruction
are still associated with the country in the world.

the country’s image and expressing stability were important goals in order to reattract
tourism to the country. For this reason, the
restoration of the Stari Most to its original form done in order to normalize
Mostar, for its citizens, as much as for the outside world. Tourism is a strong
economic engine, which contributes to the state both as an industry in its own
right, and as a platform for promotion of foreign investment and economic ties.
Today, the Old City of Mostar preforms as an exceptional tourist site. The streets
of the Old City are gemmed with cheerful local shops and restaurants, and there
is a pastoral view of the turquoise river and the surrounding green hills. The
ancient stone houses, the museums, the Ottoman bridges and their divers are
truly viable tourist attractions.

an outsider point of view, the cultural differences are present to some extent,
but (at first glance) with their positive pluralistic and multicultural
qualities. In the evening, the old town is bustling with life, and the restaurants,
bars and dance clubs are full with tourists and locals. The Old City has become
a pleasant bubble cut off from the hostile urban environment around it. This
old town recreation area creates of a physical and conceptual meeting point
between the Croats and the Bosnians, in which walls of hostility and prejudice
can be removed coexistence is maintained. Locals from both sides of the river,
begin to intermix, especially the young people of the city, who have not
personally experienced the war. From conversations I have had with young people
of Mostar, it seems that their social circles are heterogeneous, and that even
inter-ethnic romantic connections are no longer considered taboo.


architectural and social success of the old town’s recreation contrasts with
the failure of the city’s symbolic architecture. The symbolic structures that
were built or reconstructed after the war explicitly express the values they represent
and the political statements that underlie their architectural concept are
unignorable. The symbolic architecture imposes itself physically and
politically on the urban space, thus forces the public to take a stand. Yet, in
the already tense socio-political atmosphere of Mostar there is no need for
additional points of contention. Therefore, with the old town as an example, it
seems that only when the symbolic burden was removed from the architectural
concept, it has begun to promote values of peace and unity. The public spaces
and attractions intended for the public’s wellbeing, such as recreational
areas, parks, etc. are not monumental in their essence. They are not charged
with symbolism and therefore are more accessible to the population. One is free
from taking a political stand regarding the architecture space. Yet this not to
say that the old town is free of symbolic identity. Its great contribution to
the unification of Mostar, has set it as a symbol for values of peace, unity,
rehabilitation and faith. The symbolism has been formed by the users of the
space, rather by an external architect. I believe that urban spaces of this
kind can generate the desired unity, from which it will be possible to create a
common language and bridge between the cultures. This might be the common
ground from which a new symbolic architectural language may evolve.


1 Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Mostar,”

2 Source:

3 Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. ” Siege of Mostar,”

4 Ibid

5 Source: Calame,
J., & Charlesworth, E. (2011). Divided cities: Belfast, Beirut, Jerusalem,
Mostar, and Nicosia. Divided Cities: Belfast, Beirut, Jerusalem, Mostar, and
Nicosia, 7(3), 1–261. Page 106

6 Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. ” Siege of Mostar,”

7 Ibid 

8 Mitrovic, J. (2008). Bridging the Divides- ” Unifications
” of Mostar. Main. , page 3

Nomination Dossier ” The Old City of Mostar .”

10 Ibid, 3

11 Source:
Photo studio HADŽI? Mostar,

12 Suri, S.
N. (2012). Two cities with no soul: Planning for division and reunification in
post-war Mostar. 48th ISOCARP Congress, Planning in Post-War Mostar, September
10-13, 17. Retrieved from,
page 12

13 Mitrovic,
J. (2008). Bridging the Divides- ” Unifications ” of Mostar. Main. Page 4

14 Ibid

15 Source: Suri,
S. N. (2012). Two cities with no soul: Planning for division and reunification
in post-war Mostar. 48th ISOCARP Congress, Planning in Post-War Mostar,
September 10-13, 17. Retrieved from
page 12

(2005). Nomination for Inscription on the World Heritage List Bosnia and
Herzegovina Nomination Dossier ” The Old City of Mostar .”

17 Grodach,
C. (2002). Reconstituting identity and history in post-war Mostar,
Bosnia-Herzegovina. City, 6(1), 61–82.

(2005). Nomination for Inscription on the World Heritage List Bosnia and
Herzegovina Nomination Dossier ” The Old City of Mostar .”


19 Source:,_Mostar,_old_bridge_2.JPG

20  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Statue
of Bruce Lee (Mostar),”

21 Mitrovic,
J. (2008). Bridging the Divides- ” Unifications ” of Mostar. Main., page 39

22 Wikipedia,
The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Statue of Bruce Lee (Mostar),”

23 Source:

24 Source: