We take you across some unique bridges around the globe, designed over the centuries, and which still continue to fascinate visitors.
By Niharika Joshi
While the design of bridges lies in the realm of engineering, with factors of structure, stability and construction in focus, a bridge is as much a piece of architecture and art as a product of engineering.
For centuries, man has sought to link landscapes, cross rivers, span gorges and make a statement with the design of bridges. There are instances of great symbolic connection and folk tales associated with timeless bridges such as the Caravan in Turkey and the Rakotzbrücke in Germany. Sometimes, beautiful landscapes are further enhanced by a breathtaking span of steel such as the Millau Viaduct, France. There are also great feats of engineering and planning, such as the Akashi Kaikyo (or Pearl) bridge, Japan and the Danyang-Kunshan Grand bridge, China. Bridges not only lead to great destinations, but have become places of interest.
This list of magical, incredible and inspiring structures invites you to take the first step on the bridges of the world, the planet’s ‘Bridges across Forever’.
GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, SAN FRANCISCO, USA
Perhaps the first image that comes to mind when we talk of bridges is the Golden Gate bridge in California, United States. This is because it is said to be the Most Photographed bridge in the world.The ‘international orange’ paint and a striking presence on the city’s skyline make it impossible to miss. The bridge, built in 1937, has attracted millions of tourists and become an important icon for the city.
SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE, AUSTRALIA (Widest bridge)
The width of a bridge is as important as its length or span. The widest bridge is the steel arch above the Sydney Harbor,Australia, measuring 160 feet across. This bridge accommodates 8 lanes of traffic, 2 rail road tracks, a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle path. A recent creation, which took 8 years to build, this massive structure opened to public in 1932. Undoubtedly, this is one of Australia’s most well-known landmarks.
AKASHI KAIKYO (OR PEARL) BRIDGE, JAPAN (Longest Suspension)
Of the two types of bridges, suspension and cantilever, suspension bridges are known for their delicate and tensile nature, with the ability to cover long spans. Some well-designed suspension bridges such as the longest one in Japan, the Akashi Kaikyo are spectacular and enormous feats of technology. With three connected spans — two at 3,150 feet and one at 6,532 feet — the Pearl stretches a total of 12,831 feet across the Akashi Strait. It took 12 years to build and opened to traffic in 1998; the bridge stands tall even in the most extreme weather and seismic conditions of Japan.
MILLAU VIADUCT, FRANCE (tallest vehicular bridge)
Well-designed bridges have the potential to transform provincial, forgotten towns into major tourist attractions. The Millau Viaduct, France, does just that. The enormous cable-stayed road-bridge spans the valley of the river Tarn, in north France, and is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with the highest pylon’s summit at 343 m (1,125 ft) — slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower. From its conception in 1987 to finishing touches in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is not just statistically impressive but the visual effect makes the experience real. White, ultra sleek steel cables, suspended on pylons stand tall and almost inseparable now from the lush green valley below and cloudy blue skies above.
THE DANYANG-KUNSHAN, CHINA (longest moto-rail bridge)
China is definitely at the cutting edge when it comes to bridges, being home to 11 of the world’s 15 longest bridges. The Danyang-Kunshan, which opened to public in 2011 ranks as the world’s longest, at 164.8 km. The bridge hosts a rail road, with a high speed train which reduces what used to be a 10 hour journey to half the time. The bridge runs through a mountainous region, with several tunnels on the way.
CARAVAN BRIDGE, TURKEY (oldest)
As technology and innovation continue to push the boundaries to create new possibilities in bridges, some old structures have survived over two millennia, and continue to inspire and impress. The arched stone Caravan bridge, running over the river Meles, in Izmir, Turkey was supposedly built in 850 BC, and is over 2,800 years old. The structure is simplistic and the physical aspects of the bridge are not as significant as its age and the people associated with it. Legends like Saint Paul and poet Homer have reportedly crossed the bridge, which still stands today.
CHAPEL BRIDGE, LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND (oldest covered bridge in Europe)
The Chapel bridge,crossing the Reuss river in Lucerne, Switzerland is the oldest covered bridge in Europe. It was constructed in 1333, and said to have been designed to protect the city from attacks. Inside the bridge are panels of paintings from the 17th century, showing historic events. Most of the bridge was destroyed by an unfortunate fire in 1993, but was quickly restored. An important part of the image of the bridge is the octagonal brick water tower (Wasserturm), adjacent to it. This tower was once a prison, watch tower and treasury, and is now a club room for the city’s association. The saints depicted in the paintings have blessed the bridge, which has now become a tourist attraction and symbol of the city.
HELIX BRIDGE, MARINA BAY SANDS, SINGAPORE
Recent explorations in pedestrian covered bridges have led to innovative designs, such as the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. This bridge is significant because it is the world’s first ‘double helix’ pedestrian bridge, comprising spiraling steel members and is 280 m long. The steel members are held together by inter-connecting struts to create a tubular structure, within which pedestrians walk. This architectural marvel was assembled over 2 years, with 2,250 meters of steel used in total. The dynamic night lights in the bridge create interesting moods at different times for the visitors.
RAKOTZBRÜCKE, KROMLAU, GERMANY – (a circular optical illusion)
This bridge is not as well-known as the others, but unique and enigmatic due to its history. This medieval looking bridge dates back to the 1860s. It arches delicately over the waters of the Rokotzsee and creates an unusual and miraculous optical illusion of a full stone circle, with its reflection in the water. The usability of the bridge is in question, for the aesthetics and the magnificence are more important here. The stone arch bridge, set in a beautiful nature park is prohibited for people to cross, so as to keep it intact for future generations to admire.
RIALTO BRIDGE, VENICE
Some bridges are crossed by accident, and sometimes reached without planning, but are important nevertheless. Rialto bridge in the city of canals, Venice, Italy was one of the first bridges over the Grand Canal, around the 1850s. This single span bridge is supported by wooden piles at the end, and surmounted by arched shops, with a larger arch crowning the centre, allowing pedestrians to pass. Today the bridge is a backdrop for many films and is a mark of the city of Venice. The bridge is best enjoyed from a gondola, escaping the crowded streets to pass under it, in the bright Italian sun.