Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge of Višegrad across the Drina River in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina was built at the end of the 16th century by the court architect Mimar Koca Sinan on the orders of Grand Vizier Mehmed Paša Sokolović. Characteristic of the apogee of Ottoman monumental architecture and civil engineering, the bridge has 11 masonry arches with spans of 11 m to 15 m, and an access ramp at right angles with four arches on the left bank of the river. The 179.5 m long bridge is a representative masterpiece of Sinan, one of the greatest architects and engineers of the classical Ottoman period and a contemporary of the Italian Renaissance, with which his work may be compared. The unique elegance of proportion and monumental nobility of the whole site bear witness to the greatness of this style of architecture.

Historical context

The Višegrad Bridge was commissioned by the Grand Vizier Mehmed Paša Sokolović (1505-1579), who exercised power over a long period at the summit of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of three sultans. The commissioning of the bridge was primarily a tribute to his native region. Founding edifices of this sort, which were both religious and social, formed part of the traditions of power, which expressed itself through major architectural creations which thus reinforced its symbolic nature and its image of civil and religious power.

The Višegrad Bridge was secondly a major structure in terms of planning and control of the inner Balkans by the Ottoman Empire from Istanbul. It thus forms a highlight of the route linking the plains of the Danube to Sarajevo and the Adriatic coast, particularly to the free port of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). The period of its construction coincided with the apogee of the Ottoman Empire, following the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566). This was a long period of peace and prosperity for the region.

The great court architect and engineer Koca Mimar Sinan, who was the head of the team of architects of the Empire, was called on to design and construct the bridge. He had already built, on behalf of Mehmed Paša Sokolović, several major civil and religious architectural works: mosques, bridges, civil constructions, in Istanbul and in several regions of the Empire. Sinan is an emblematic representative of the classical architectural creation of the Ottoman Empire at its apogee. The Višegrad Bridge was constructed from 1571 to 1577, and substantial human and financial resources were employed in the task.

For two and a half centuries, the solidly built bridge suffered primarily from flooding. There are records of works in 1625 and then in 1875 on the piers. The exceptional flooding of 1896 submerged it entirely, resulting in serious damage. The piers were shaken and eroded, and the parapets were washed away. The bridge was not however destroyed. In 1911-1912, extensive works were carried out to stabilise and reinforce the piers by Austro-Hungarian engineers (piers 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9). At that time the bridge was strategically important in military terms, being located at the frontier with Serbia. The installation of a new thicker stone parapet brought a change to the visible parts of the bridge.

During World War I, in 1914-1915, piers 3 and 4 were blown up with dynamite. After the war, a provisional repair was carried out using steel girders supported by the remaining parts of the initial bridge. The reconstruction in stone, following the original design, was carried out in 1939-1940.

During World War II, in 1943, five of the bridge's arches were completely destroyed, affecting piers 3, 4, 5 and 6. The arches destroyed were rebuilt by the Ministry of Communication and the Roads Administration, between 1950 and 1952, following the model of the parts still intact.

The most recent period has been marked by the construction of the Bajina Basta power station downstream (1966), and by that of the Višegrad power station upstream, some 2.5 km away (1989). These two constructions on the Drina, relatively close to the bridge, have profoundly modified the hydraulic rate of flow of the river (see chapter 4 and 5). In terms of bridge maintenance, the main event was, from 1980 to 1982, an analysis of the bridge and then the launch of restoration work on the foundations of piers 5, 6 and 8. Unfortunately, this work remained uncompleted, because of a lack of funds. The same is true of the work on pier 2, begun in 1992 and not completed.

The war of 1992-1995 had no direct impact on the Višegrad Bridge.

The access ramp on the left bank was restored in 1991, in a spirit of respect for the heritage.

In 2003, vehicle traffic was prohibited, because of the structural risks arising from the state of the bridge (see chapter 4 and 5). In 1986 a modern bridge was built about 1 km downstream, duplicating the function of the historic bridge.

Since the exceptional flooding of 1896 and the damage during the wars of the 20th century, the bridge has undergone a succession of repairs and reconstructions, with the two last campaigns of works unfortunately remaining uncompleted. The resulting structural fragility has been increased by changes in the rate of flow of the Drina, as a result of the construction of the hydroelectric power plants and their management.