Croatia has opened a long-awaited bridge to connect the two parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina separated by a 12-mile stretch of coastline.
The mile-and-a-half-long bridge spans the Adriatic Sea to connect mainland Croatia with the Pelješac peninsula in the south, allowing easy access to the country’s most important tourist destination – the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik.
Croats rushed early Tuesday morning to be among the first to cross the Peljesac Bridge on foot as it admits pedestrians ahead of the official opening ceremony planned for the evening. After the ceremony, the road was opened for traffic.
Co-financed by the European Union and built by a Chinese company, the elegant, cable-stayed bridge with six pylons is a rare venture of its kind amid China’s concern about increasing its economic influence in Europe through infrastructure investments, known as Belt and Road Initiative.
State-run HRT television described the bridge inauguration as a “historic day that generations have been waiting for”.
“This is a big day for Croatia,” said Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. “Let’s enjoy today!”
Two of the six republics that made up Yugoslavia were Croatia and Bosnia. When the communist state collapsed in the early 1990s, Croatia’s Adriatic Sea coastline was divided by a narrow strip of Bosnia.
Both residents and tourists had to pass border checks, which slowed traffic and left southerners feeling cut off from the rest of the country.
The region includes Dubrovnik, a UNESCO-protected medieval city that is Croatia’s biggest tourist attraction.
The bridge had been in the planning for years before funding was finally secured in 2017 when the EU allocated €357 million (£300m), which covered most of the €526 million-euro cost. In 2018, the China Road and Bridge Corporation won an international tender to build the bridge.
The project, however, faced criticism from Bosnia, whose officials complained of unresolved border issues and said the bridge would block access to part of its coastline.
Known for its nature and hundreds of Adriatic Sea islands, Croatia is a major tourist destination, attracting millions of people from Europe and around the world every summer. Tourism is also important for the economy of Croatia, which is among the weakest countries in the European Union.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press