Visegrad, BiH

This is from a June 2009 letter:

During one of the mid afternoon breaks Suzi and I drove the 20 km to Visegrad, the setting for the novel “Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1961.  The novel helped me understand the historic context of Yugoslavia better than most non-fiction books.  The main character is the bridge itself, built by the Turks about 450 years ago.  The bridge has 11 stone arches.  At the end of the novel, during the First World War, the Austrians blow up two of the arch spans.

Between the wars a steel trestle spanned the gap.  The two stone arch spans were restored under Tito.  I actually found the historic pictures more interesting than the bridge itself.  The dedication plaque at the span’s center, a wide spot that has always been a community gathering place, has recently been restored, with the Serbo-Croatian written in Arabic script, as it would have been during the 360 years chronicled in the novel.  None of the interpretive signs on or near the bridge refer to the novel, and yet the novel made this, arguably, the second most famous bridge in old Yugoslavia after the single arch span at Mostar.

The region is an historic border area; between the Eastern and Western Roman empires, Turkey and Serbia, Austria and Serbia, Croatia and Serbia and now Bosnia and Serbia, with the mix of Moslem, Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish that made history interesting and, in the past 150 years, tragic.  During the recent wars the town, which had been 60% Moslem, became almost totally Serbian.  Many Bosnians were shot on the bridge and dumped into the Drina adding a tragic chapter to the earlier history portrayed by Andric.

Four bus loads of school kids were swarming over the bridge when we arrived.  Although Visegrad is now in the Serbian part of Bosnia I noted that two of the girls were wearing the hijab.  Apparently kids from all over Bosnia come here again.  Kids from Serbia proper seldom cross the border in school groups to visit nowadays.  One of our school participants visited the bridge on a school trip; his wife, just that much younger, had never been.  We corrected that last week.

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