Except for the Taliban's demolition of the colossal Buddhas in Afghanistan's Bamian Valley, it is widely agreed that there has been no recent act of cultural vandalism more wanton than the destruction a decade ago of the Old Bridge in Mostar, onetime capital of Herzegovina. That masterpiece of Ottoman design, completed in 1566 by Mimar Hajruddin, was once the world's longest masonry span, a marvel of pre-modern engineering held together with mortar and lead pins.
Stari Most, as the crossing is called in Bosnian, gave the picturesque city its name; it rises 65 feet above the deep canyon of the Neretva River, surrounded by a skyline of domes and minarets silhouetted against steep hillsides. The 95-foot-long arch may have symbolized the artistic refinements that Islam brought to medieval Europe, but as an ecumenical emblem, it became an irresistible target during the civil war that wracked the former Yugoslavia. In November 1993, the limestone bridgewas shelled by Croatian forces and collapsed into the river.
Rededicated this past summer after a meticulous $15 million restoration sponsored by the World Bank with aid from the World Monuments Fund, the bridge now stands as the centerpiece of Mostar's regeneration. The landmark neighborhoods flanking it, including the Old Bazaar, have been rehabilitated by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in order to spur tourism. Residents are hopeful that the city's economic rebirth will follow. www.centarzamir.org.ba/eng/index.html.