Mostar – A City Devastated by War

Mostar

The story of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a tragic one. When the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, a vicious war broke out and the Yugoslav People’s Army bombed Mostar on April 3rd of that year, the beginning of a devastating time for the city.

Mostar was founded in 1452 on the banks of the River Neretva. The name of the settlement came from the bridge-keepers (mostari) who manned the wooden bridge across the river. It was an important cross point on the trade route between the Adriatic and the mineral-rich regions of central Bosnia.

In 1468, the town came under Ottoman rule and began to expand. Fortifications were built between 1520 and 1566 at the behest of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the wooden bridge was replaced with one made from stone. The Old Bridge, or Stari Most, became a marvel of engineering at the time. It would become the symbol of the city.

Mostar

A view of Mostar as it is now, including the rebuilt Stari Most.

Austria-Hungary took control of the area in 1878 despite the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, known collectively as the Bosnia Vilayet, remaining officially as part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1908, Emperor Franz Joseph formerly annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina and formed a puppet government in Sarajevo, headed by a governor. The Kingdom of Serbia was unhappy about the annexation and nationalism grew among the southern Slavs. A group called the Black Hand (also known as Unification or Death) was formed with the aim of uniting areas with a majority southern Slavic population to form Yugoslavia.

On 28 June 1914,  heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia which led directly to the outbreak of World War I.

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip who has been called the man who started the first World War.

In 1918, after the war had ended, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which was renamed the Kingdom on Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia and Mostar became part of the Independent State of Croatia headed by a fascist puppet regime. At the end of the war, the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was formed and Mostar became part of the administrative Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Map of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Map of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Vojvodina and Kosovo were provinces of the Socialist Republic of Serbia.

Tensions within Yugoslavia were rife throughout its lifetime as different ethnic groups tried to co-exist. The tension reached breaking point when Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on 25 June 1991. War soon broke out between the newly independent states and the The Yugoslav People’s Army. They eventually left Slovenia in October 1991 but the war with Croatia would continue until 1995. The Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in September 1991 and escaped the fighting experienced in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. The international community recognised the independence of Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992.

Much of the trouble in Bosnia-Herzegovina stems from the fact that there are three main ethnic groups living in the country; The Muslim Bozniaks, the Serbs and the Croats. The independence of the Republic Of Bosnia-Herzegovina was declared in April 1992 and the Bozniaks favoured retaining the territorial integrity of the new state. The others felt that it should be partitioned. The Serbs declared the Republika Srpska independent while the Croats declared The Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia independent. It erupted into a bitter conflict. The Yugoslav People’s Army laid siege to Sarajevo for nearly four years and carried out atrocities including the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Bozniaks were killed in an act of genocide.

An abandoned building in Mostar

A building in Mostar damaged during the war.

In 1994, the Croatian forces and the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina signed the Washington Agreement which led to a ceasefire between them. They joined forces in the war and were helped by the Croatian Army to push the Serbs back in an operation codenamed Operation Mistral.

An aerial view of damaged buildings in Mostar

An aerial view of damaged buildings in Mostar with one restored.

By this time, the Yugoslav People’s Army had established control over Mostar and laid siege to the city. The Croatian Defence Force and the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army reclaimed the city however as the Yugoslavs retreated, they shelled Mostar destroying many of its buildings including historical landmarks. A Fransiscan monastery, catholic cathedral and 14 mosques were among the buildings destroyed. The famous Stari Most bridge had already been destroyed by the Croats in 1993.

Abandoned building in Mostar

The interior of an abandoned building in Mostar.

Operation Mistral was backed up by NATO air strikes and by September 1995, the Serb gains had been reversed and this forced the parties to begin ceasefire negotiations. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Agreement on 14 December 1995. The Republika Srpska would become an autonomous region of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Today, Mostar continues to recover from the effects of the war. Destroyed and abandoned buildings remain throughout the city, and the country as a whole. The Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh Track is one such example.

Damaged building in Mostar

A building which still has the bullet holes from the war.

This is a report from TripAdvisor about the hugely popular Death Of Yugoslavia tour.

After having studied the history of the former Yugoslavia at university, I was keen to go on this tour. The three sites are things that you wouldn’t find or think of looking for on a visit to a town so famous for its beautifully reconstructed Ottoman bridge. The guide drove us everywhere so travelling was easy, and he provided an accurate, well structured and highly objective history from the start of the trip and throughout. However, he was fantastic because he was constantly asking our opinions and making sure we were totally involved, rather than just feeding us information, he was brilliant at interacting with us. The first site is fascinating and unexpected, the second particularly poignant as it feels as though you are at the centre of the conflict. This was brilliant as it was great talking with an extremely knowledgeable guide who has experienced the conflict first hand, which makes it a far more interactive and relevant experience. He’s also great fun and has a clever sense of humour! Honestly, don’t go to Mostar without doing this trip! The final site is one of the best, a brilliant monument in the unique style of the Yugoslav communist era. The fact it is overgrown is particularly interesting as it is a tangible reflection of the change from the years of communist supremacy to the new, this makes it a far more interesting place to visit and it makes it seem particularly eerie! Despite the formality of the review, the experience of the tour is relaxed and fascinating! Don’t miss it!

Location: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Abandoned: 1990s

2 thoughts on “Mostar – A City Devastated by War”

  1. Pingback: Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh And Luge Track - Destroyed By War

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