Ivo Andrić: The Bridge on the Drina

original: Na Drini Ćuprija

“Nothing binds people more as collectively and happily survived misfortune”.

The Bridge on the Drina (original: Na Drini Ćuprija), is a historical novel and it revolves around the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad, which spans the Drina River and stands as a silent witness to history from its construction by the Ottomans in the mid-16th century until its partial destruction during World War I.

It is a story, long four centuries, with special attention given to the lives, destinies, and relations of the local inhabitants, especially Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, during the first the Ottoman and later Austro-Hungarian occupation.

A story talks about a boy Serb, who was taken from his mother from a vicinity of Višegrad by the Ottomans. He was one of many Christian boys to experience such fate, which was a custom of Ottoman Empire that ruled over the Balkans for 500 years. Afterward, he is being converted to Islam and his name was changed to Mehmed, later becoming known as Mehmed Paša Sokolović. Ar the age of 60 he becomes the Grand Vizier, but he remains haunted by the memory of being forcibly taken from his mother. He orders the construction of a bridge at the part of the river where the two became separated and from where river prevented his mother from proceeding to follow him.

Construction of bridge lasted for 5 years and had replaced the unreliable ferry transport that was once the only mean of crossing the river. Also, the bridge becomes an important link between Bosnia Eyalet and the rest of the Ottoman Empire.

During a construction strikes and sabotages of building site were held as a protest as the poor working conditions. But after it was made, it became a very important moment in the lives of the local residents.

A century later, when the Habsburg Monarchy occupies much of northern Balkans, therefore tears it from the hands of Ottomans, the empire is triggered causing a town, so called caravanserai, to be disused.

Unlike the caravanserai, bridge stayed standing for centuries without any maintenance.

And although seems that cultural and religious differences can, in the region of Balkan, never be overcome, residents of Višegrad (a town that grew by the almighty bridge) even though their differences, when a Drina flooded, stood in solidarity with one another.

In the 19th century first nationalist tensions arise, with the outbreak of the First Serbian Uprising. Consequently, Turks constructed a blockhouse on the bridge where they slaughtered suspected rebels. With a continuous decline of Ottoman Empire and increasing power of Austria – Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro gain their full independence in the year of 1878, and Bosnia becomes occupied by Habsburg monarchy that turned it into a protectorate. A region of Bosnia faces a tremendous shock by numerous changes and reforms that were introduced due to a new rule. Bosnia is being flooded by people from all parts of Austria-Hungary, opening new businesses and bringing the customs of their native regions with them. With new, much better road connections, slowly bridge over the Drina starts to lose its strategic importance. Children of Višegrad goes to school in Sarajevo, some even to different parts of Austria-Hungary like Vienna, bringing back home new social and cultural ideas from abroad, among them the concepts of trade unions and socialism.

Eventually, tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia became such that Austria-Hungary found Serbs as a serious obstacle in a conquest of the eastern Balkans. Finally, in Balkan wars, in the years of 1912 – 1913, Ottomans were almost completely forced from the region, which made relations between Austra-Hungary and Serbia to decline even further.

June 1914, Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which launches series of events that lead to the outbreak of World War I.

Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.

In Višegrad, the non-Serb population was encouraged to fight against town’s Serb residents. And the bridge of Višegrad regained its importance while it served for transportation of material and soldiers which prepared an attack on Serbia. But as Austria-Hungary’s invasion being swiftly repulsed, Serbian advanced across the Drina. Serbs urged Austria-Hungarians to evacuate Višegrad and destroyed portions of the bridge.

“Nothing binds people more as collectively and happily survived misfortune”.

 

Bridge_on_the_Drina,_1915
The partially destroyed bridge, 1915

In 1961, Andrić was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and therefore gained international recognition. The Bridge on the Drina remains his best-known work.

Filmmaker Emir Kusturica plans on making a cinematic adaptation of the novel, for which he constructed a mock-town named after Andrić, not far from the bridge, which was reconstructed after World War I and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Hereby I invite you to read the book online:

http://www.unz.org/Pub/NobelPrizeLibrary-1971v01-00125

Thank you for reading,

With love,
Mazzora

 

 

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