Bridges Built By The Ancients – When we think about historical structures that have stood the test of time, our minds often go to iconic landmarks like the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the pyramids. However, there are also lesser-known structures that have maintained their original purpose and continue to be used to this day.
Unlike many ancient structures that have become tourist attractions, bridges have persevered in their original function throughout centuries. Despite the destructive forces of disasters, wars, and accidents that often befall old bridges, there are several remarkable examples that have survived relatively unchanged over time.
1. Pons Fabricius
Rome is known for its enduring architectural wonders, and the Pons Fabricius bridge is no exception. Constructed in 62 BC by Lucius Fabricius, this bridge replaced a wooden one that had been destroyed by fire. Lucius’s name can still be seen inscribed in four different spots on the bridge.
In 21 BC, after a flood, Marcus Lollius and Quintus Aemilius Lepidus made adjustments to help preserve the bridge, although the specifics of these modifications are not clear. One notable addition may have been a small arch designed to alleviate pressure during high waters. This ingenious feature likely contributed to the bridge’s remarkable longevity. [Source]
2. Ponte Vecchio
Located in Florence, Italy, the Ponte Vecchio was built in 1345 to replace a vulnerable wooden bridge that frequently succumbed to floods. What sets this bridge apart is its unique feature—an arcade of shops that still operates today. In the 1400s, the bridge was home to fishmongers and butchers, creating an unpleasant smell. To elevate Florence’s status as the center of the Renaissance, Grand Duke Ferdinand I expelled these merchants and restricted the bridge to goldsmiths and silversmiths. This decision played a significant role in shaping Florence’s image as a destination for affluent visitors.
During World War II, as German soldiers retreated from Florence, they demolished every bridge they crossed to impede enemy progress. Surprisingly, Ponte Vecchio was spared. Instead of destroying the bridge itself, they chose to destroy the access points. [source]
3. Ponte Di Rialto
Constructed in 1591, Ponte Di Rialto was an Italian bridge designed to replace a collapsed wooden structure. Antonio da Ponte, the architect, faced fierce competition from renowned figures such as Michelangelo and Palladio. While the bridge received mixed reviews, criticized for being “top-heavy and ungraceful,” its remarkable durability is evident. To accommodate galleys passing beneath and supporting a row of shops along its span, the bridge required a 7-meter (24 ft) arch and robust structural integrity. The bridge even withstood riots in 1797, with cannons firing from its platform. [source]
4. Khaju Bridge
Dating back to 1667, the Khaju Bridge in Iran was commissioned by Shah Abbas II. Serving as both a crossing over the Zayandeh River and a dam, this bridge holds a distinct social aspect. Unconventionally, it became a gathering place for social interactions. The bridge boasts impressive paintings and tile work, with a central pavilion that once allowed Shah Abbas II and his courtiers to admire the scenery. Today, the pavilion serves as a teahouse and art gallery, while a stone seat, once occupied by the Shah, remains as a remnant of its former glory. [source]
5. Shaharah Bridge
Yemen is home to the Shaharah Bridge, also known as the “Bridge of Sighs” (not to be confused with its Venetian counterpart). Built in the 17th century, this bridge spans a 200-meter-deep (650 ft) canyon, connecting the mountains of Jabal al Emir and Jabal al Faish. Its construction aimed to facilitate easier travel between the villages on both mountains, eliminating the need for arduous climbs up and down the slopes. However, the Shaharah Bridge served a dual purpose in addition to transportation. As the sole entrance to the town of Shaharah, it was fortified to defend against Turkish invaders. Locals even possessed the knowledge to quickly dismantle the bridge, isolating themselves from danger when necessary.
Today, the Shaharah Bridge has become a popular tourist attraction, still fulfilling its intended purpose as a functional bridge for the local community. [source]
6. Cendere Bridge
Also known as the Severan Bridge, the Cendere Bridge was constructed in Turkey during the second century by four cities from the Kommagene region. It was built to honor the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia, and their two sons, Caracalla and Geta. Notably, it holds the distinction of being the second-longest arched bridge ever constructed by the Romans.
On each side of the bridge stand two columns representing members of the emperor’s family—Severus and Julia on one side, and Caracalla and Geta on the other. However, keen observers will notice that the column representing Geta is currently missing. This absence is a result of Caracalla’s assassination of his brother due to a longstanding rivalry. Caracalla went so far as to execute Geta’s friends and allies and ordered the destruction of any mention of Geta’s name from history, including the demolition of his column. [source ]
7. Anji Bridge
Also known as the Zhaozhou Bridge, the Anji Bridge holds the distinction of being the oldest bridge in China, dating back to AD 605. Its name, which translates to “Safe Crossing Bridge,” speaks to the bridge’s durability and reliability. It was engineered to be one of the most advanced bridges of its time, boasting the largest arch. Even long after its construction, the Anji Bridge continued to receive recognition and accolades. The American Society of Civil Engineers hailed it as the 12th milestone in international civil engineering, commemorating its engineering excellence with a bronze monument.
Withstanding the test of time, the Anji Bridge has survived ten floods, eight wars, and numerous earthquakes. Throughout its documented history, it has required repair work on only nine occasions, a testament to its remarkable design and construction.[source]
8. Ponte Sant’Angelo
Commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in AD 136, the Ponte Sant’Angelo, also known as the “Bridge of the Holy Angel,” stands as one of the most renowned bridges in Rome. Its purpose was to connect the entirety of Rome to Hadrian’s mausoleum, the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel). Both the bridge and the mausoleum derive their names from the statue of the archangel Michael perched atop the structure. According to legend, the angel appeared on the same spot in 590 BC, bringing an end to a devastating plague in Rome.
In 1668, sculptor Lorenzo Bernini enhanced the bridge’s beauty by designing ten angels that adorn its length. Two of these angels were crafted by Bernini himself. Each angel holds a symbol representing the crucifixion of Jesus, such as a crown of thorns or a whip. Despite the passage of time, both the bridge and the angel sculptures continue to captivate visitors, offering a breathtaking sightseeing experience.[source]
9. Tarr Steps
Nestled in Exmoor, the Tarr Steps exemplifies a clapper bridge—a bridge constructed solely from stacked rocks. Determining its exact age is challenging, but it is believed to date as far back as the Bronze Age, ranging from 3000 to 4000 years old. The bridge consists of a series of stone slabs placed on stone piers, creating a path across the River Barle. With a length of 55 meters (180 feet), it is one of the longest clapper bridges in Britain.
Legend has it that the Tarr Steps were constructed by the devil himself in a single night. The devil allegedly made the bridge to win a bet with a local resident, who challenged him to build a bridge that could withstand the force of the river. The devil succeeded, but in his haste, he left his rake behind, which turned into the nearby rock formation known as Devil’s Cheesewring.
Today, the Tarr Steps bridge remains a popular attraction for hikers and visitors who come to admire its ancient craftsmanship and picturesque surroundings.[source]
10. Golden Gate Bridge
Located in San Francisco, California, the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most recognizable and iconic bridges in the world. Spanning the Golden Gate Strait, the entrance to the San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean, the bridge connects the city of San Francisco to Marin County.
Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began in 1933 and was completed in 1937. It was a significant engineering feat at the time, as it was the longest suspension bridge in the world until 1964. The bridge’s distinctive orange-red color, officially known as “international orange,” was chosen to enhance its visibility in the foggy San Francisco Bay area.
With a total length of 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles), the Golden Gate Bridge has become an iconic symbol of San Francisco. It offers stunning views of the bay, the city skyline, and the surrounding natural beauty. Millions of visitors and locals alike traverse the bridge each year, either by foot, bicycle, or vehicle, experiencing its grandeur and taking in the breathtaking scenery.[source]
These ten bridges represent a small fraction of the remarkable bridges found around the world. Each has its unique history, architectural design, and cultural significance, making them not only functional structures but also captivating landmarks that inspire awe and admiration.