In my last post I mentioned devşirme, or “blood tax”, the practice the Ottomans used for centuries to recruit future soldiers — janissaries — and bureaucrats from their Christian subjects.
For two centuries, from the 1400s to 1600s, the blood tax produced all the grand viziers of the Ottoman Empire. (Grand vizier was the highest ranking and most powerful position after the Sultan.)
One of the Great viziers from that period was Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who was born in 1506 near a small town of Rudo, in Bosnia and Hercegovina, in an Orthodox Christian family. His real name is not know. The young slave started his meteoric ascent as a janissary, raising through the Ottoman ranks with astonishing speed: he was the High Admiral of the Fleet, the Governor of Rumelia, the Third Vizier, the Second Vizier and finally, in 1567, the Grand Vizier, the position he would keep for 17 years, until his death. He served under three sultans, a testimony not only to his competence but also his ability to navigate the complex, ever-changing and often dangerous political currents of the Ottoman Empire.
Like many of the high Ottomans officials, he left a vast architectural legacy throughout the Empire. In 1571 he commissioned his most renowned endowment — the bridge over the Drina River, as a tribute to his native region. The 11-arch, 589 feet long stone bridge was a masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect and engineer of the classical Ottoman period, who designed at least 374 buildings in his century long life — mosques, schools, bridges, palaces, mansions — including the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Türbe (tomb, or mausoleum) in Istanbul.
UNESCO added the Mehmed Pasha Bridge in its World Heritage List in 2007, but it was famous even before that, at least in the literary world. In 1961, Ivo Andric received the Nobel Prize for his historical novel The Bridge on the Drina.
On the small photo is so called Kapija (gate). It is said that the bridge is the heart of the town, but that the kapija is the heart of the bridge.
The Turkish word for ‘bridge’ is köprü, or ćuprija, in its Slavicized form. We have another, Slavic, word – môst — but it’s amazing how much more meaning the Turkish word carries.