The important part of the Bosnian architectural heritage are the Ottoman bridges. Their construction should be viewed in the context of the general urbanisation of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th and 16th century. With the trade development, new paths were created and with them the bridges, usually a part of vizier or sultan legacy. Some of those bridges were the biggest projects of their time, such as the monumental bridge of Mehmed-pasha Sokolović in Višegrad.
Due to the weakening of Bosnian government, the bridges in the 18th century were mainly built by private sponsors. Those bridges were definitely less ambitious projects, but the quality of the construction was very good. The same goes with the style consistency. The Ottoman bridges in Bosnia always had their recognizable appearance and there were only few formal differences between early and late construction. Within the basic Ottoman style there were always some local characteristics, also present in the construction of mosques. However, most fascinating is their sculptural form, like the sculpted and massive pillars, the buttresses, the pointed arches, the circular and polygonal structural openings, the cornices, the pedestals for inscriptions, etc. The bridges, as engineering projects, are the true works of art.
The Golden Age of Bosnia
Turkish historian Ekrem Hakki Ayverdia, in collaboration with Bosnian historians, recorded, in his research, that Ottomans built more than 6600 public facilities in Bosnia. There were also hundreds of housing and residential architecture that were not mentioned in his research.
By the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, Ottomans carried out an intensive campaign to establish the new oriental type cities in Balkans. There was a political decision to assimilate the region into a new civilisation environment that was aspirating to the specific uniformity and standards. It's therefore not a coincidence that the old cities founded by the Bosnian kings, such as, Jajce, Bobovac, Ključ or Srebrenik were neglected by Ottomans, while the new centres such as Sarajevo, Mostar, Foča and Banja Luka were promoted.
Ottomans affirmed the new type of a city which was uniting the different aspects of the social, economical and cultural life, as we know it today. The Balkan medieval cities, at the time, were either trade towns or the administration headquarters. Bosnia definitely prospered with the Ottoman reforms. For example, the group of barely connected medieval villages, named Vrh Bosna, in the 16th century became one of the biggest and richest cities in Europe, named Sarajevo. That was also the period of the biggest literacy expansion in Bosnian history, as the cultural institutions, public libraries and scriptoria were founded. Establishing home libraries became a trend in the society. Behind this huge development was Bosnian nobility that accepted Islam and became the part of a sultan family by marriage connections. The progress influenced the development of arts and since in Bosnia had no earlier form of Islamic architecture, this area was like a white canvas for the Ottoman artists and suitable for the big budget construction projects.
The Transitional Period
Unfortunately, early medieval bridges have not been preserved, and we don't have any relevant information about them. However, like with gravestones, there was a continuity of handicraft stone processing that, with the arrival of the Ottomans, got a new dimension. The Ottoman bridges contain local characteristics, when it comes to the selection of the stone and the rustic processing, which gives them a special value. The project plans may have been coming from Istanbul, but the complete construction was assigned to the local artists, not only Muslims. During the Middle Ages, Bosnia had a developed stone processing, as seen on the tombstones. There has been an interesting transition, as former blacksmiths of the tombstones became masters or 'tasdžije' who worked mostly on the final stone processing, and the stone ornaments within the organized gild or 'esnaf', as recorded for the first time in Sarajevo, during 1555. They were creating chronograms or sculptured stone epigraphy and muqarnas, a three-dimensional geometry decoration.
Muqarnas from the Gazi Husrev Bey Mosque in Sarajevo / Photo by Kenan Šurković, © Islamic Arts Magazine
Ottoman Bridges in Sarajevo
Of all the other cities in Bosnia, the biggest concentration of the bridges in the city area was in Sarajevo, the capital city divided by the river Miljacka where most of the bridges were built on. Also, the bridges were built in the peripheral part of the city on rivers Željeznica and Bosnia. The exact number of bridges is unknown but there was at least seven stone bridges from the Ottoman period, of which four are preserved. Many bridges were intentionally destroyed, like two famous bridges, the Emperor bridge and Rustem Pasha bridge from the 16th century, that were demolished during the Austro-Hungarian administration, ie, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The other destructive factor was frequent flooding of the river Miljacka, which led to repairs and sometimes a complete reconstruction. In 1791 all bridges in Sarajevo, except the Šeher-Ćehaja bridge in Baščaršija, were destroyed or suffered serious damage.
Sarajevo has four preserved Ottoman stone bridges; the bridge 'Kozja ćuprija' (Goat bridge) from the second half of the 16th century, 'Šeher-Ćehaja' bridge from 1585/58, the bridge 'Latinska ćuprija' (Latin bridge) from 1798 and the 'Roman bridge' from the first half of the 16 century.
The bridge 'Kozja ćuprija' is probably the legacy of the grand vizier Mehmed Pasha Sokolović. This single-arch bridge, 42 m in length, is an example of exceptional aesthetics, defined by two large round side holes to facilitate the construction and to serve as a decoration.
The bridge 'Kozja ćuprija' built in the half of the 16th century in Sarajevo / Photo © by Amar Čudić
The bridge 'Šeher-Ćehaja', named probably by one of the Sarajevo governors (ćehaja), is a standard bridge with multiple arches. Its beauty is reflected in the poles with distinguished pedestals, the buttresses and the sculptural accentuated emphasizes that serve as a protection from the floods. The bridge, 40 m in length, was originally longer, considering that the fifth arch was buried during the regulation of riverbed of Miljacka during the Austro-Hungarian occupation.
The bridge 'Šeher-Ćehaja', built in 1585 / 86 in Sarajevo / Photo by Elvira Bojadžić, © Islamic Arts Magazine
The bridge 'Latinska ćuprija' or the Latin bridge got its name after the city district 'Latin mahala' where the merchants from Dubrovnik and other parts of Europe lived. The original bridge was built in the 16th century, but was destroyed in the flood and fully reconstructed in 1798. Sarajevo merchant Abdullah Briga left in his will, for charity purposes, enough means that were used to fund the reconstruction. 40 m in length, the bridge has only four arches visible, from the original five.
The bridge 'Latinska ćuprija' or the Latin bridge from 1798 in Sarajevo / Photo by Kenan Šurković, © Islamic Arts Magazine
The Roman bridge is definitely the most interesting from the all four bridges. The name can be misleading, since it was actually built in the first half of the 16th century. It's not certain who built the bridge. Some claim the patron was Rustem Pasha, the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, while others argue that it could also have been Semiz Ali Pasha or Gazi Ali Pasha. However, the name probably comes from the ancient Roman road, or what is more likely, by the stone from the Roman ruins used in the construction. The bridge, 52 m in length, is an example of extraordinary synergy between architecture and natural environment. Read more about the bridge here.
The Roman bridge built in the half of the 16th century in Sarajevo / Photo by Elvira Bojadžić, © Islamic Arts Magazine