Town of Bridges Carrying People Over Their Inner Walls For Centuries
√ The beautiful Bregava River flows through Stolac for the most of its part. The river creates two stunning large natural waterfalls known as Pjena and Provalije.
√ From the Middle Ages until today, 15 amazing bridges have been built in Stolac out of which at least 10 represent a true historical heritage.
√ While the Spite bridge was built to praise an inseparable part of the Bosnian and wider Balkan mentality, Sara’s bridge was built as a beautiful ode to love.
√ Despite carrying an incredible burden from 90’s war Stolac is slowly regaining its pedestal of Balkans favourite cultural melting-pot.
The only Nobel laureate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ivo Andrić, described the Stolac in his specifically imaginable manner. „When a God was creating a world, He was doing that in Stolac”, he wrote. Ivo Andrić spent some time in Stolac while working on his, what is about to be, the last novel. Came to Stolac with one purpose, with no high expectations, left it with the feeling of both awe and admiration.
No doubt Stolac is made of magic. We could just speculate if a town both founders and builders had such intention while building it. Probably not, since we could agree all of the fascinating stuff are made accidentally.
STOLAC AND ITS VIBRANT ECONOMIC PAST
Originally, the main source of income in Stolac were crafts related to wool processing and numerous watermills. Both crafts were well profitable which made Stolac, apart from pleasurable weather, an attractive place to live. During the Middle Ages, a town relied significantly on its strategic position. Stolac lies on the main trade route that connects the port in Dubrovnik with the hinterland destinations.
The above-mentioned wool processing has played an important role in a town’s economic activities too. Even nowadays, within the town limits, we can find plentiful amounts of the wool “washing wells” (Bos. badnji). Correct washing is critical to ensure trouble-free processing. The locals working on these wells assert this as a most effective procedure regardless of many modern standards. But the 21st-century jury ruled the death penalty to this craftsmanship. These days, Badnji are mostly used for washing wool and cotton blankets, as well as rugs or carpets.
Apart from the abundance of water amid authentic Herzegovinian karst, bridges would be the first thing that catches the guest’s eye. Bregava river provides a much-needed life essence to Stolac and irrigates the arable land in a town. Canalization of the river is done with the purpose to utilize its potential as much as possible during the past. Today we can witness and see many private gardens decorated with the Bregava canals.
During the Ottoman period, Stolac gained additional importance due to its strategic position, and vicinity to the frontier. Amid these Stolac “Ottoman centuries” the construction of the watermills and bridges coincided. The main difference between these two is the size of the spans. It is understood that the latter ones were of a smaller size on the watermills compared to bridges.
INAT ĆUPRIJA (SPITE BRIDGE)
Vivid and dynamic history awarded to Stolac an epithet of “the museum under the sky”. Apart from other historic and cultural monuments, inscribed on the list of the National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, naming the most significant, beautiful, meaningful (etc.) bridges stands as an imperative.
A spite/defiance (Bos. inat) is an inseparable part of the Bosnian and wider Balkan mentality. Historic anthropology explains this feature within the culture as the only expression of integrity of “small”, ordinary people. Assuming that most of the Stolac visitors previously paid a visit to Sarajevo, they probably heard the story of an old man and his “house of spite”.
Well, Stolac does offer quite an interesting story based on local spite too. According to the legend (whenever we’re in a lack of historic sources, we do rely on legends), amid the construction of Podgrad bridge, a Stolac pasha (tur. lord, an honorary title) received an order to mobilize men and choke Anadolia insurrection. During pasha’s absence, some local goon named Trtak (apparently from the town of Ljubinje, 20 km far from Stolac) took over the rule in a town.
Since every story has a moral lesson, this one isn’t an exception to the rule. Trtak, as a spiritually pauperised person, wanted to leave his own stamp in Stolac. The reminder of a period when he set up his rule, regardless of the kind and length of that rule. He ordered the construction of a totally new bridge that will stand as a bigger opponent and competitor to the pasha’s one.
Two main bridge workers had to obey. Apparently Muslim and Orthodox, according to their names (Isah and Risto), revealing an everlasting truth that tribulation makes no difference. Knowing they are gambling with their lives regardless of their decision, they made a move that showed utter ingenuity. Since Trtak demanded that his bridge should have more arches than pasha’s one, workers made it that way. The catch was in the shape of arches, where each one was aslant and off-center. Trtak as a primitive person hasn’t realized this gaffe and was very pleased since he left a stamp in Stolac.
Isah and Risto showed that it is possible to please everybody, and their inaccuracy “on purpose” doesn’t diminish the beauty of the spite bridge and Bregava River.
ROMEO AND JULIET FROM STOLAC
In many towns worldwide we could hear the local “Romeo and Juliet” story, therefore Stolac won’t be an exception to the rule. The leitmotif of the whole blog are bridges backed up with an interesting back-story, accompanied with authenticity and originality. Both Bosnia and Herzegovina are blessed with beautiful ladies, therefore Stolac is just within that comfort zone.
A legend says a local lady, named Sara Kašiković was blessed with appealing beauty. She fell in love with a man named Salko. As mentioned before, legends are not providing exact data, but most probably these events took place at the very end of the Ottoman rule in Stolac. Since interfaith relationships weren’t allowed either by the existing law or praised by the people, Sara and Salko had an insurmountable gap in front of them. They lived at the opposite Bregava banks, and due to that Salko had to cross the river. During one of these activities, the water level of Bregava river was quite high and Salko drowned.
Sara’s father Radenko used to be a high-skilled builder, and he took Sara quite often all around the seaside where he was working. Sara definitely built her entrepreneurial mindset and initiated the construction of the first hotel in Stolac. The hotel named “Europe” was built on a meeting point between Sara and Salko.
Nowadays, at the very site where Sara’s hotel used to be, stands the Nakšibendi tekke (Dervish) house. Not that famous as the neighbouring one existing in Stolac, but definitely built at the most appropriate location. Dervishes are, and were, well known for the righteously peaceful approach in religion. Love towards God Himself and other people stands as an unavoidable segment of their existence. In regard to that, love is defining a place that once upon a time used to be a meeting point of Sara and Salko, and nowadays is a place of worship.
LEGACY OF STOLAC IN MODERN DAYS
Interestingly, almost 150 years ago, ought to Sara’s enterprise Stolac had a hotel, amongst very few existing in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina. Due to the most infamous past of Stolac, a town today doesn’t have a hotel at all. Prewar Hotel Bregava still stands in ruins since 1993. Stolac shared fate with most of the towns/cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Present-day Stolac is a place nationally heterogeneous, therefore a town’s population consists of both Bosniaks and Croats. Generally speaking, post-war politics labeled with a chauvinist narrative, does not work in favor of a reconciliation process. Amongst other disgraceful examples, in Stolac still exists the phenomenon of “Two schools under one roof”. The latter one represents the most visible example of discrimination in education in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ever since the wide recognition of Mak Dizdar’s opus as of the late 1960s, his birthplace has been awarded the epithet of cultural melting-pot.
Activities of the local, young generation from Stolac X shows the light at the end of the tunnel. Present-day reality would be surreal from the position of bridge constructors, Sara and Salko, and Mak Dizdar himself. If the wheel of history regards time as cyclical and consisting of repeating ages, it is legit to believe that the present situation is of a temporary kind. Maybe, more importantly, unnatural and thus unsustainable in the long term.