Mostar began as a small hamlet at a strategic crossing of the Neretva River. Its hinterlands consisted of a broad agricultural plain on the west bank and steep terraces on the east bank surrounded by barren mountains. A multi-ethnic and multi-cultural settlement, the city possessed an independent political identity since the twelfth century.
The name of the city signifies "bridge-keeper", as a bridge has always been at the heart of the town's identity. By the sixteenth century, Bosnia had become part of the Ottoman Empire and was ruled by a provincial governor. In a matter of decades, Mostar was transformed from a minor river crossing to a thriving imperial crossroads. In 1878, Bosnia was made a crown land of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and underwent significant urban development, before becoming a republic of the new socialist Yugoslavia at the end of World War II.
Under Ottoman administration, architecture became an important symbol of the social and economic changes in the city, as the Ottomans strove to extend their influence and integrate local inhabitants into their empire. Monumental architecture, in particular, was used to affirm, extend and consolidate imperial holdings. Administrators and bureaucrats-many of them indigenous Bosnians who converted to Islam-founded mosque complexes that generally included Quranic schools, soup kitchens or markets. The grandest mosques were characterized by a large single dome, like the Koski Mehmet Pasa Mosque on the east bank of the Neretva River or the Karagöz Mosque, bearing many hallmarks of the famous Ottoman architect Sinan. New and existing neighborhoods developed quickly on both banks of the Neretva during the Ottoman period, with one and two-storey wooden houses of simple construction, but with rich and expressive interiors. Typical house plans were centered around a courtyard, accessible through a street-level. The Biščevića house is a surviving example of the characteristics of Mostar's vernacular architecture: an austere entrance belies interiors with painted built-in cabinets, elaborately carved wooden ceilings and a room that cantilevers over the Neretva River. Perhaps the most iconic of Ottoman structures in the city, was the Stari Most (Old Bridge), constructed from 1557 to 1566 to replaced a previously existing, and precarious, wooden suspension bridge. Facilitating travel, trade, and the movement of military troops, the bridge became a symbol of the benevolence and power of the Ottoman Empire.
After integrating into the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the nineteenth century, Mostar's City Council cooperated with the Austro-Hungarians to implement sweeping reforms in city planning: broad avenues and an urban grid were imposed on the western bank of the Neretva, and significant investments were made in infrastructure, communications and housing. New monuments and architectural styles reflected the aspirations of Mostarians and the Austro-Hungarian administration. City administrators like Mustafa Mujaga Komadina were central players in these transformations that facilitated growth and further linked the eastern and western banks of the city.
By the end of World War II, Mostar was part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a republic of the new socialist Yugoslavia. During this period, the industrial base was expanded with the construction of a metal-working factory, cotton textile mills, and an aluminum plant. Skilled workers, both men and women, entered the work force and the social and demographic profile of the city was broadened dramatically; between 1945 and 1980, Mostar's population grew from 18,000 to 100,000. Because Mostar's eastern bank was burdened by inadequate infrastructure, the city expanded on the western bank with the construction of large residential blocks. Local architects favored an austere modernist aesthetic, prefabrication and repetitive modules. In the 1970s and 1980s, a healthy local economy fueled by foreign investment spurred the recognition and conservation of the city's cultural heritage. An economically sustainable plan to preserve the old town of Mostar was implemented by the municipality, which drew thousands of tourists from the Adriatic coast and invigorated the economy of the city. The results of this ten-year project earned Mostar the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1986.
After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Bosnia experienced a painful and devastating inter-ethnic war from 1992 to 1995. During this period, Mostar was overwhelmed by Serbian military units, and shelled from the surrounding hills during May and June of 1992. Nearly 100,000 people were forced from their homes and over 1,600 died. Many historic buildings in the old city, including most of the city's important mosques, were heavily damaged. A Croat-Muslim Federation expelled Serbian forces in June 1992. Shortly thereafter, local Muslims and Croatians became adversaries due to competing territorial ambitions and ongoing political instability. The Bosnian-Croatian Militia (HVO) took possession of the West Bank of the Neretva, expelling many Muslim families from their homes, and initiating a new round of hostilities in what was termed the "second battle of Mostar". More than 3,000 people were killed, and another 10,000 were sent to concentration camps. Throughout the HVO's assaults, the Stari Most, was a favored target for hostile artillery. On November 9, 1993, the bridge's arch was hit at point-blank range by a Croatian tank shell and Mostar's 400-year-old symbol fell into the Neretva River. It was rebuilt after conflict subsided, and now stands as a slender, single-span masonry arch.
Despite a partial peace agreement in March 1994, Mostar remained a violently divided city. European Community administrators attempted to engineer political equilibrium, implementing humanitarian assistance, restoring essential infrastructure and building new schools. NATO's intervention in the region began with the signing of a "General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina" in Dayton, Ohio. Delineating a Muslim-Croat Federation covering 51% of Bosnia's territory and a Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska) governing the remaining 49%, this agreement led to increased stability. By June of 1996, local residents of all backgrounds and absent refugees were able to participate in elections for a unified city government in Mostar. Today, as wartime tensions slowly fade, energies are being poured into new commercial and civic projects-including further reconstruction of damaged historic architecture, such as the Stari Most-which has fostered a growing sense of hope in the city and its future prospects.
Pasic, Amir. "A Short History of Mostar." In Conservation and Revitalisation of Historic Mostar. Geneva: The Aga Khan Trust for Culture. http://archnet.org/publications/3480. [Accessed August 04, 2016]