9 extraordinary bridges in the Balkans

For centuries, bridges have connected the cities and nations of the Balkans over rivers, gulfs and valleys… and in rare cases, over no obstacle whatsoever. Some Balkan bridges have become symbols of unity, while others have been a cause for division – after all, World War I practically started on a small bridge in Sarajevo!

Whatever their story or peculiarity, it is without doubt that these bridges have left a mark on the region. From the place where the love padlock tradition started to the world’s tallest railway viaduct, kashkaval tourist presents 9 extraordinary bridges in the Balkans.

1. Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nobel Prize winner: Bridge on the Drina in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

If the Bridge on the Drina sounds somehow familiar to you, it must be because of Yugoslav novelist Ivo Andrić’s eponymous masterpiece. In the novel, Andrić manages to capture a microcosm of the Balkans by telling the story of the bridge from early Ottoman times till World War I.

Actually named the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, this 16th-century stone structure is a work of art on its own. Designed by famous Ottoman architect Sinan, the bridge has 11 gentle arches and spans a total of 180 metres over the waters of the Drina in Višegrad, eastern Bosnia.

2. Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria

Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria

Bridge with shops inside: Covered Bridge in Lovech, Bulgaria. Photo credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis, Flickr.

Hanging over the Osam River in north central Bulgaria, Lovech’s Covered Bridge is a remarkable engineering oddity. Today’s pedestrian bridge was constructed in 1982 as an accurate replica of legendary architect Kolyu Ficheto’s creation from 1876. And while the original featured 64 tiny workshops used by the craftsmen of Lovech, the modern version boasts the variety of three workshops, nine souvenir shops and two cafés serving traditional confectioneries.

The Covered Bridge in Lovech is one of the few commercial covered bridges in the world. It has become an emblem for the quaint Bulgarian town much like its Swiss counterpart, the Kapellbrücke in Lucerne.

3. World’s first love padlock spot: Bridge of Love in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia

World’s first love padlock spot: Bridge of Love in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia.

World’s first love padlock spot: Bridge of Love in Vrnjačka Banja, Serbia. Photo credit: White Writer, Wikipedia.

You would never have guessed that the ubiquitous tradition of hanging those kitschy love padlocks on the railings of bridges has its roots… in a tiny Serbian spa town! But indeed, the earliest mention of the love padlocks you can now see in thousands on the Pont des Arts in Paris or the Hohenzollernbrücke in Cologne leads to the Bridge of Love in Vrnjačka Banja.

As the story goes, a local Serbian officer left his beloved fiancée at home to fight in Greece during World War I. However, after the war he fell in love with a Corfu women and broke off the engagement. So to keep their love safe, couples in Vrnjačka Banja started to attach padlocks with their names on the bridge where the former couple would meet in their happy days.

4. Majestic cable-stayed wonder: Rio-Antirrio Bridge, Greece

Majestic cable-stayed wonder: Rio-Antirrio Bridge, Greece

Majestic cable-stayed wonder: Rio-Antirrio Bridge, Greece. Photo credit: Duncan Hull, Flickr.

One of Europe’s longest cable-stayed bridges, the Rio-Antirrio Bridge spans the nearly three-kilometre Gulf of Corinth in southern Greece. The bridge was unveiled in time for the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004 to connect the communities of Rio on the Peloponnese peninsula and Antirrio on the Greek mainland.

The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is quite an engineering feat too – some novel techniques had to be employed to make its construction at all possible on this tricky site. One of the bridge’s perks is a structural health monitoring system which surveys the bridge’s condition thanks to over 100 sensors.

5. Connecting a divided region: Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Connecting a divided region: Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Connecting a divided region: Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Alistair Young, Flickr.

The Old Bridge in Mostar is so vital to the place that it even gave the town its name. A splendid white stone structure from early Ottoman times, the Old Bridge dominates Mostar’s picturesque old town and is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s trademark sights.

Built in 1557 at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, the original bridge was a tragic victim of the Bosnian War – in 1993, it was destroyed by Croatian shelling. However, thanks to UNESCO’s efforts, the historic bridge underwent an authentic reconstruction. Since 2004, the Old Bridge has once again been linking the two parts of Mostar over the turquoise waters of the Neretva.

6. Tallest railway viaduct on Earth: Mala Rijeka Viaduct, Montenegro

Tallest railway viaduct on Earth: Mala Rijeka Viaduct, Montenegro

Tallest railway viaduct on Earth: Mala Rijeka Viaduct, Montenegro. Photo credit: Charlie, Flickr.

For a tiny country, Montenegro cannot complain from a lack of dramatic valleys. The Mala Rijeka Viaduct on the railway between Belgrade and the port town of Bar rises some 200 metres over the seemingly negligible Mala Rijeka, or Little River.

However, held by four gigantic concrete pillars, this is in fact the tallest railway viaduct in the entire world – and one of the top three tallest railway bridges ever. The Mala Rijeka Viaduct must provide for quite an exhilarating train ride to the amazing beaches of the Montenegrin coast!

7. Symbol of a city: Stone Bridge in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

Symbol of a city: Stone Bridge in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

Symbol of a city: Stone Bridge in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia

The Stone Bridge in the Macedonian capital Skopje connects not only two town parts, but two ages as well. From the grandiose but kitschy historicism of the modern Macedonia Square to the lively little alleys of the Old Bazaar on the other side of the Vardar River, the Stone Bridge transforms Skopje like a portal to another world.

Constructed by the Ottomans as early as 1469 (and that on top of Roman foundations), the Stone Bridge has become one of Skopje’s most recognizable landmarks and has earned its spot in the city’s flag and coat of arms.

8. Bridge over nothing: Dry Bridge in Zrenjanin, Serbia

Bridge over nothing: Dry Bridge in Zrenjanin, Serbia

Bridge over nothing: Dry Bridge in Zrenjanin, Serbia. Photo credit: Alexzr88, Wikipedia.

Normally, you would expect a bridge to span some kind of physical obstacle, like water or a valley. However, this is not the case with the Dry Bridge in Zrenjanin; or at least, not anymore! This bridge was originally built in 1962 to connect the isolated Little America neighbourhood to the town centre over the Begej River. But the filling of one of the river’s beds in 1985 meant that the bridge would stand over perfectly walkable land.

While the town government has been considering demolishing the bridge for years, it still remains in place today, as something of an ironic reminder of mindless town planning practices.

9. Where World War I started: Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Where World War I started: Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Where World War I started: Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Marcel Oosterwijk, Flickr.

You may feel that Bosnia and Herzegovina is over-represented in this list, but this is only because it’s a country of remarkable bridges – and not only imaginary bridges between cultures and religions, but physical too. Consider the seemingly small and innocent Latin Bridge in Sarajevo… the site of one of history’s most important assassinations.

Built in the late 18th century, the Latin Bridge is famous as the site where Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was killed by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in 1914. Franz Ferdinand’s death was the immediate cause for Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia and to spark World War I.

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