Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Vernacular Heritage of Neretva Basin

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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    The southern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina is characterised by the wealth, value and diversity of its archaeological and architectural heritage and by the continuity of habitation, in some places reaching back to the Palaeolithic times. Mostar, Stolac, Počitelj, Ljubuški, Blagaj, Zavala and Blidinje are among its most significant sites; in each, the natural setting has had a particular impact on the urban morphology. The morphology and vernacular architecture of these towns, established on the banks of the Radobolja, Neretva, Bregava, Trebižat and Buna rivers, or close to the Vjetrenica Cave and the glacial lakes of Blidinje Polje, attest to centuries of interaction between man and nature. The significance of some of these sites has been recognised by their inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List or the Tentative List.
Blidinje, Lake and medieval necropolis  



The Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar

Mostar is a result of interaction between natural phenomena and human creativity throughout its long history. The universal qualities of the cultural landscapes of south-eastern Europe represent a phenomenon that is the common property of all humankind. The cultural and historical value of Mostar consist in an urban agglomeration that was created in the 16th century at the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire around the Old Bridge. The historic town of Mostar, spanning the deep valley of the Neretva River, developed in the 15th and 16th
centuries as an Ottoman frontier town and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries. Mostar has long been known for its old oriental houses and a bridge, after which it was named. In the 1992–1995 war, however, most of the historic town and the Old Bridge, designed by the renowned architect Hajrudin, was destroyed. The Old Bridge area, with its pre-Ottoman, Ottoman, Mediterranean and western European architectural features, is an outstanding example of a multicultural urban settlement. 
Mostar, Old Bridge   


The reconstructed Old Bridge and the Old City of Mostar are symbols of reconciliation, international co-operation and of the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities. With the “renaissance” of the Old Bridge and its surroundings, the symbolic power and meaning of the City of Mostar – as an exceptional and universal symbol of coexistence of communities from diverse cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds – has been reinforced and enhanced, underlining the unlimited efforts of human struggle for peace and powerful 
co-operation in the face of overwhelming catastrophes. The Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. The historic urban areas of Stolac, Počitelj and Blagaj, the site of the Vjetrenica Cave in Zavala, and the necropolis with stećaks at Blidinje are all on the Tentative List, and nomination files are currently being developed. Comprehensive conservation works are also being carried out at sites such as Stolac and Počitelj.
Blagaj, Tekke on Buna river    

The Historic Core of Stolac

Stolac is located in the area of Herzegovina known as Humina, on the tourist route crossing Herzegovina and linking the mountainous hinterland in Bosnia with the coastal regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dubrovnik and Montenegro. Containing, in one small space, unique cultural-artistic and aesthetic values, Stolac’s historic core is an example of a complex cultural-historical and natural environmental ensemble. It is an example of the organic link between human and natural architectures, which also reveals that the beauty of the location was decisive for its planning and building – a principle often present in the development of medieval towns. Nine historical layers constitute the architectural ensemble of Stolac: pre-history, the Illyrian-Roman period, the early, high and late Middle Ages, the Ottoman period, the Austro-Hungarian period, and the first and second Yugoslavia. The most visible material evidence of the townscape reveals a multitude of different influences on the architecture of the town, in the encounter of contrasts and similarities, laws and paradoxes, planning and perfect spontaneity, that lend this to wn its complex image of outstanding and universal value. The historical centre of Stolac is open and easy to understand at a glance, offering the unusual opportunity and cultural privilege of observing the impact of no fewer than four empires (Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian), three kingdoms (Bosnia, Hungary and Yugoslavia), and the three great monotheistic religions of Christianity (Orthodox and Catholicism), Islam and Judaism, giving rise to the most diverse mix of architectural styles and customs within the cultural circles defined as Mediterranean, Central-European, Western-European, Byzantine, Balkan, and Ottoman. Yet with all this diversity, the historical core of Stolac is a coherent and harmonious cultural/historical monument with individual properties that have coalesced into a single ensemble. 



The Natural and Architectural Ensemble of Blagaj 

The natural and architectural ensemble of Blagaj forms a spatially and topographically self-contained ensemble. Blagaj is one of the most valuable urban-cum-rural structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina, distinguished from other similar structures in: its much-ramified, disjunct urban layout, organically linked solely with the position of the “čaršija” as the central functional element; the presence of the fortress of Stjepan Grad, to which two minor and one major road formerly led. Blagaj’s urban structure, spatial physiognomy and organization can be traced from the medieval outskirts of the fort, which were transformed in the Ottoman period into a “kasaba” (town), and then into an administrative centre. The Austro-Hungarian period brought no changes to Blagaj’s urban development. The period between the two world wars was marked by stagnating urban development, until 1961 when there was a sudden increase in the population and the unplanned building of residential areas. An analysis of Blagaj’s architectural heritage and old urban quarters (“mahalas”) shows that the buildings of major monumental and townscape value occupy a relatively confined area along the river Buna: from the Leho bridge to the source of the Buna, and from Bunsko and Harmana mahalas to the Džamija or Carska (Imperial) mahala (by the Bunsko brook). These constitute the boundaries of Blagaj’s historic centre, with the oldest mahalas and the čaršija, the crafts and trade area. The other mahalas (with the exception of Do and Podgrađe) were much more sparsely populated, and their names were often derived merely from the toponyms of older residential areas. Both oriental and Mediterranean features are to be seen in Blagaj’s urban layout, while the settlement itself reveals the influence of a number of different factors: the natural configuration of the terrain, and socio-economic relations.


Water Mills – Disappearing Vernacular Architecture 

Rivers are the arteries of the urban areas of Mostar, Stolac, Blagaj and Ljubuški, and are at the heart of their residents’ daily lives. Common to these urban areas located on major rivers is their vernacular architecture of bridges and mills – flour mills and stamping or fulling mills. The interaction between people and their natural surroundings that has given rise to these natural and architectural ensembles attests to a particular way of exploiting natural resources that is, above all, sustainable. The way the buildings are placed in their setting shows that the local craftsmen sought to integrate them into their natural surroundings in the simplest possible way, without imposing on the surroundings or subordinating them to their works. The way the watercourse is exploited, far from damaging the natural surroundings and resources, in fact respects the specific features and limits of its surroundings.
The earliest evidence of water mills in the Balkans dates from the 10th century. Though it is impossible to say when the first mills in Herzegovina were built, it is likely that it was during the Roman period. The earliest documentary records date from 1465. The mills that are still extant date mainly from the 18th or 19th centuries, but they were built on the site of earlier buildings that were either swept away by the river in spate or were demolished to make way for larger mills. Their position depends solely on the force of the current: they were built where the current is not too strong, providing a steady source of energy to power the mill wheels. This and this alone dictated their location in the town. Most water mills belong to the same type of building, with no major differences in their structural system. The way they were built was entirely subordinate to their functions, and as such they are free of all superfluity as a whole and in the smallest detail, without any decoration. Most mills have a single storey, built out over the river, and almost always with a saddle roof. Seen from downstream, their setting, dictated by the operation of the mill wheel, gives them the appearance of two-storey buildings, with the upper storey carried by the arches of the ground floor.
Mostar, Mill  


Inside, the mills consist of a single space housing the mill wheels. The length of the building depends on the number of wheels i.e. of arches on which the mill stands over the river. The mills on the rivers Radobolja, Trebižat, Bregava and Buna are larger than those elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with six to eleven mill wheels. The wheels are set at equal distances, a rhythm that is reflected on the exterior, in the arrangement of the arches. With only one exception, the mills all have horizontal wheels. Some mills, built at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, have an upper storey, forming the living quarters or providing temporary accommodation (mills of this kind are found on the River Trebižat in Ljubuški). The mills are invariably built of stone, with ashlar used for the quoins, window and door casings and arches. They almost invariably have a saddle roof (just one mill, on the River Trebižat, has a hipped roof). The simple timber-framed roof is clad with stone slates, though on many mills these have been replaced by tiles. A very few mills, built in the 20th century, have flat roofs. One or two have also been fitted with new technology, being built as water-cum-steam mills (one such example is found in Mostar). After WWI, the number of mills in Bosnia and Herzegovina declined steeply, in direct consequence of the loss of their economic importance and the introduction of modern mills powered by electricity. The mills are at risk primarily from neglect after closing down, a direct result of changes in ownership, leaving them with no-one to run or care for them. 
  They are also vulnerable to unplanned or poorly planned development and the failure to recognise their value and potential. The risks to which the mills are exposed, as well as their extremely poor condition yet outstanding value, imposes on us the duty to take every possible step to preserve them. For this reason the Commission to Preserve National Monuments is renovating two mills in Mostar and two in Stolac, as part of a campaign to promote the values and importance of vernacular heritage. Their renovation entails both essential conservation works and bringing them back into operation. The mills in Mostar are on the River Radobolja. One, consisting in fact of two mills, is unique in its clearly readable historical complexity, with the older mill dating from the 18th century and the newer from the 20th, and in that it is the only example of a water-cum-steam mill with a flat roof in Mostar and beyond. The other, smaller mill is a typical water mill, located very near the Old Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In Stolac, too, two mills are being renovated, both on the River Bregava and both typical examples of larger Stolac mills, one with eight and the other with seven mill wheels. The Elezovića mill, which includes accommodation for the miller, was in use until the 20th century. Only the foundations of the Podgradska mill are still extant.