During the mid-16th century, the Ottoman Empire was at its peak. The mighty Sultan’s army penetrated deeper and deeper into Europe. The European nobility, occupied with its own petty wars, was unable to stop swift and agile Turkish army that penetrated their lands looting and pillaging. The only hope for preserving European culture and way of life was the discipline and training of the Austrian armada. Therefore, Suleiman I the Magnificent concluded that Vienna was the key to the conquest of Europe. If Vienna falls, other countries will follow.
To get to Vienna, he first had to go through Hungary, where Croatian knight Nikola Šubić Zrinski Sigetski was waiting for him at Siget, and before Hungary he had to go through Croatia and the strong fortress of Osijek.
In 1526. he finally managed to conquer Osijek and the way to Hungary was open, except for one small thing. The swamps that made the delta of the Drava River were difficult to cross for horses and chariots with the equipment needed for siege, which was a major logistical problem. So Sulejman decided to simply make a bridge across the swamp and ensure a stable and fast shipping corridor.
So magnificent and important was that bridge that it had to be named after its ideological creator, therefore the name The Suleiman’s bridge.
In 1566, the construction finally started and the project was assigned to the best Turkish architect Mimar Sinan who has already proved himself as a builder of large projects such as the Sulejman Mosque in Istanbul and the bridge in Višegrad which became the main motive nobel prize awarded book Bridge on river Drina of Croatian writer Ivo Andrić. Sinan decided to cross the Drava between Osijek and Darda, which the Turks recently occupied.
In order to build the bridge as soon as possible, it was decided to start from both sides at the same time. From the direction of Osijek, the construction started sandžakbeg Nesuh, and from the direction of Darda sandžakbeg Hanza. Since Hamza had a greater role in building, he is generally regarded as the main builder. It was Hamza that Sulejman himself sent a red scarf with gold writing and a message that he would hang him on that scarf if the bridge was not built on time.
The same year sultan decided to begin the campaign of total conquest of Europe and to go to Vienna so the work on bridge was accelerated to keep Hamza’s head, and that Sulejman can safely pass without struggling through the swamp.
The bridge was completed in just two weeks on July 19, 1566, and the sultan passed over just a day later on the way to his legendary journey to besiege Siget under which walls he died.
Construction was more than complicated. Besides unstable swamp, builders had to fight both the lack of construction material and the changes in the Drava water.
At the end, the bridge was built on 118 boats that were connected by chains, through which beams were placed as the base of the bridge. It was completely built without the use of nails, and the voliume of the job best describes the fact that 25 000 people were working on it, which was a huge problem because it is not easy feed so many people.
After it was built, the bridge was seven kilometers long and six meters wide to allow the two chariots to pass. On both sides there was a fence and a pedestrian area and a few junctions in case the bridge crosses the wider cargo. Several towers were placed to guard it. Bridge fee was charged to all but soldiers and noblemen to make enough money for the upkeep.
Due to its unprecedented size in the world, the monumental nature and complexity of its construction, many considered Sulejman’s Bridge the world’s eighth wonder, and was known in the world as Il ponte famoso d’Essek or The Famous Osijek bridge.
Sulejman’s Bridge very fast became the main trade route of Osijek and the cornerstone of its development.
It is interesting to note that Sulejman I the Magnificent crossed the bridge after siege to Siget in the sitting position even though he was dead. It was his veziers who decided to act like that so that people think that sultan is still alive and to keep morale of the army.
In 1663 ahmed pasha Koprulu leaves Croatia to spend winter in Belgrade. Croatian ban Nikola Zrinski, son of the famous Siget defender, used his absence and rode into Osijek to burn the bridge. For this endeavor, he was rewarded by the French king Philip IV with an invitation and enrollement in the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The same year, the great vizier returns from Belgrade and repairs the bridge that remains for civilian use for the next twenty years.
In 1685, Austria decided to liberate Osijek and sent general Jacoba Lesle to burn the bridge and begin the siege. Lesley was unsuccessful in every aspect. The siege was unsuccessful, and Osijek remained in Turkish hands, and the Turks dismanteled bridge and let the Drava carry it away to rebuild it later.
The end of the bridge happened in 1686 when duke Ludwig of Baden moves to attack Darda. The Turks left the fort and retreat to Osijek burning a bridge on their way which never been restored.
In the Nature Park of Kopački rit, wooden remains were found. All three countries, Croatia, Turkey and Hungary are interested in its reconstruction, so it is possible that soon the chariots will again cross the bridge of the Suleiman I the Magnificent.