The ceremony represented a valuable opportunity to stress the role that cultural heritage has to play as an expression of identity and as an instrument of reconciliation and tolerance. The Old Bridge of Mostar, which dates back to 1566 and for centuries acted as a physical and symbolic link between the various communities of the multi-ethnic town, was destroyed by bombing in 1993, in a deliberate attempt to erase a people’s cultural identity.
UNESCO provided technical and scientific expertise for the reconstruction work that began in 1999, funded by the World Bank, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Croatia, the Council of Europe Development Bank and the City of Mostar, and the new bridge was inaugurated 5 years later, on 23 July 2004. Today, the reconstructed Old Bridge of Mostar stands as a reminder to local communities of their shared past and encourages the international community to strengthen its commitment to safeguarding cultural property in times of conflict.
The historic town of Mostar, spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar has long been known for its old Turkish houses and Old Bridge, Stari Most, after which it is named. In the 1990s conflict, however, most of the historic town and the Old Bridge, designed by the renowned architect Sinan, was destroyed. The Old Bridge was recently rebuilt and many of the edifices in the Old Town have been restored or rebuilt with the contribution of an international scientific committee established by UNESCO.
The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, eastern Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. The reconstructed Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar is a symbol of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.