Saturday, 8 September 2012

Drama on the Stari Most
At the highest point on the bridge a small figure on the skyline climbed over the rail. 20 metres below him the freezing Neretva River swirled beneath sheer-sided rocks.
On the shoreline, a crowd had gathered to watch. High above them, the man stood there frozen on the narrow ledge.  For a moment, it felt as if time has been suspended.
Then someone was shouting. “Go on. Do it!”
As if broken from his trance, he raised one arm to the sky, took a deep breath and propelled himself outwards, his arms stretched out like an eagle. For a moment he seemed to fly, but then he began to drop like a stone to the river below. The wind lifted and his body curved dangerously close to the rocks. He hit the surface and the water exploded. He was gone.
The crowd scanned the river but there was no sign of the man, until moments later he reappeared bobbing like a cork further downstream.  Everyone broke into applause.
All afternoon we’d watched the young boys of Mostar jump from the 10 metre board on the riverside just below the bridge, practising for the day they too would qualify for the Stari Most Annual Diving. In Monsar it’s a rite of passage.
The Stari Most (Old Bridge) was commissioned by the Suleiman the Magnificant in 1557. On completion it was the widest single-arched bridge in the world. No one knows how the scaffolding was erected or how the stone had been transported from one side to the other. It seemed a miracle.
For over 400 years, the locals dived from the bridge. No one imagined it would ever end – that is until the 9th November 1993, when the bridge was obliterated in the war.  Mostar was in shock. The Stari Most was more than just a bridge – it had been a symbol of unity across a multi-ethnic city. Mostar had to wait until 2004 for the reconstructed bridge to unite the old town again and the diving could recommence.
The local youths gazed up at the divers, their eyes bright with admiration, anticipating their own initiation. Diving from the Stari Most, they knew, wasn’t for the faint-hearted. The water, at 12 degree Celsius, can send the heart into cardiac arrest. Before the jump, the divers submerge themselves in the river to acclimatise and are sprayed again with icy water just before they make the leap.  The jump itself is perilous too - one mistake can mean the difference between life and death.
The initial jump had been completed and the Bosnian anthem rang through the ravine. Flowers thrown from the bridge, floated across the air before drifting down the river: a remembrance to those who died in the war. High above the banks of the river, the remaining burnt out shells of buildings are a sobering reminder of a very recent war. But again the town is reunified in its annual dive on the Old Bridge.

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