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Crossing The World's Most Beautiful Bridges (PHOTOS)

Posted: 08/04/2012 9:27 am

Bridges have always held a place in our collective history. Whether symbolizing escapes to new frontiers or the intrinsic connection between old and new, these architectural marvels are captivating. Some seem to defy nature by spanning treacherous waterways or deep canyons; others defy the human condition by connecting cities in conflict over territory or ideology. Other bridges are romantic constructions, paying homage to art and beauty as much as form and function.

The Brooklyn Bridge, the iconic symbol that connects lower Manhattan to Brooklyn over the East River, incorporates several of these criteria. City engineers in the 1800s were faced with a formidable challenge: designing a bridge to span one of the era's busiest and roughest stretches of saltwater. As historical author David McCullough relates in The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge, his 615-page account of its construction: "If there is to be a bridge," wrote one man, "it must take one grand flying leap from shore to shore over the masts of the ships. There can be no piers or drawbridge. There must be only one great arch all the way across. Surely this must be a wonderful bridge." Today the Brooklyn Bridge is part of the cultural fabric of New York--few could imagine the cityscape without it.

Each of the magnificent bridges on this list comes with its own story. According to lore, Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice offered a final glimpse of freedom to prisoners on their way to execution. The lovely Khaju Bridge in Iran was both a respite for lovers and a getaway for the shah. And in Singapore, the newly constructed Helix Bridge looks to the future of bridge building, with aesthetics, engineering and imagination integrated into its high-tech double-helix design.

Whether motivating the planning of an adventure or simply brightening a commute, these wonders of the world are well worth crossing.

--Erin Schumaker

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  • Tower Bridge, London, England

    London’s 272-foot, dual-bascule bridge began as an architectural conundrum. As the East End of the capital city became more densely populated in the 19th century, the city needed a new crossing structure downstream of the London Bridge, but could not afford to disrupt river traffic in the process. The solution? A bridge that could raise and lower to allow river traffic to pass. It took more than 50 design submissions, eight years, five major contractors and 432 construction workers, but by 1894 the Tower Bridge was finally completed. The finished product was an architectural marvel—at the time the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built, which powered its 1,100-ton decks with steam hydraulics. Impressive engineering by day, yes, but the bridge is even more spectacular at night, aglow with floodlights illuminating its fairy-tale turrets. <em>Tower Bridge Rd.; 44-20/7403-3761; <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>.

  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

    Completed in 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the Golden State’s most majestic and iconic landmark—it appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1975—attracting more than 10 million visitors a year. The 4,200-foot bridge spans the picturesque Golden Gate Strait and is painted International Orange, a vivid hue chosen so that the arch could be seen through San Francisco’s ever-present fog. The Golden Gate has cropped up in various films, including The Maltese Falcon, and has inspired countless writers, including James D. Strauss, who wrote in his 1937 homage: “My arms are flung across the deep, / Into the clouds my towers soar, / And where the waters never sleep, / I guard the California shore.” <em>415-921-5858; <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>.

  • Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

    Naturally, the tallest and oldest bridge in Florence is steeped in history. The Medieval stone-and-wood Ponte Vecchio crosses the Arno River at its narrowest point and is lined with overhanging shops. Butchers occupied the bridge until the 16th century, when the duke of Florence and Tuscany complained about the smell; the butchers were out, and the gold and silversmiths (who remain on the bridge to this day) were in. Later on, the ancient structure’s legendary reputation would be its savior. In 1944, the Nazis ignored orders to destroy all the bridges in Florence, apparently deciding the Ponte Vecchio was too beautiful to decimate. They blew up the ancient buildings on each end of the bridge instead. Via dè Guicciardini; 39-055/287-797.

  • Khaju Bridge, Isfahan, Iran

    Isfahan is one of the oldest cities in Iran, and in its heyday it was one of the most elegant. Equally lovely is the charming Khaju Bridge over the Zayandeh River, constructed in 1650 by Shah Abbas the Great, who built many of the city’s famous mosques and palaces. The 24-arch bridge quickly became both a romantic escape—a place for hide-and-seek or a cover for lovers—and a practical addition. Because the brick bridge is atop a dam, its sliding gates allow it to raise the river’s water level to irrigate the fields. Even the shah was captivated: He had rooms within the bridge repainted and tiled so he and his court could use it as a retreat.

  • Puente del Alamillo, Seville, Spain

    Though many of the bridges on this list are ancient, modern marvels can be equally breathtaking. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed Seville’s Puente del Alamillo for Expo ’92, a world’s fair–like exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America. The striking 13-cable-stayed bridge extends 466 feet into the air, cascading downward as it stretches across the Guadalquivir River, which connects the old quarter of Seville with La Cartuja Island, where Columbus lived while he planned his voyage across the Atlantic. Located just north of Seville’s historic center.

  • Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, New York

    As former New York Mayor Ed Koch told The New York Times in 1982, “The symbol of New York is without doubt the Brooklyn Bridge. It is the symbol of the genius and vitality of the people of New York.” The 129-year-old steel-wire suspension bridge, which connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River, was the first of its kind and a symbol of the optimism of the times. Despite numerous setbacks (including the deaths of lead engineer John Roebling and 26 others who fell victim to accidents or disease during its 13-year construction), the bridge was praised for its grace and deemed the eighth wonder of the world when it opened in 1883. Its Gothic arches, granite towers and steel cables attract more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists every year. <em>Manhattan entrance, Park Row and Centre St.; Brooklyn entrance, Tillary and Adams sts. or Prospect St. at Cadman Plaza E.; <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>.

  • Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), Venice, Italy

    You certainly can’t tell by looking at it, but the lovely Baroque bridge that spans the Rio di Palazzo has rather dark origins. The bridge was constructed of white limestone in the early 1600s to connect the inquisitors inside Doge’s Palace to the prison across the river. The structure was called the Bridge of Sighs because the view of Venice through the grilled windows of the enclosed overpass was thought to be the last glimpse of the outside world convicted prisoners saw before they were executed. In reality, petty criminals not up for execution occupied the prison. (Still, Lord Byron popularized the more dramatic version in his poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”: “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; / A palace and a prison on each hand.”) Today, in an ironic twist, the bridge has a special meaning for sweethearts: Local legend says that if lovers kiss under the bridge at sunset, they will be granted eternal love. Piazza San Marco; 39-041/279-2644.

  • Chengyang Bridge, Sanjiang County, China

    In Guangxi, a province in southern China, the Dong minority people built traditional covered “wind and rain” bridges, which connected neighboring villages and also offered places to congregate, relax and exchange ideas while protected from the elements. This wood-and-stone bridge, completed in 1916 in Sanjiang County, is adorned with intricate carvings and paintings in the corridor and along the eaves of its five wing-tipped pavilions. In the middle of the Chengyang, carved into marble, are the words of Chinese historian and scholar Guo Moruo, who was so inspired by his visit that he composed a poem about the bridge. Chengyang Village, Linxi Township.

  • Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Sometimes it’s what an architectural treasure symbolizes rather than its original wood and stone that matters most. Stari Most, the old bridge in Mostar (from mostari, meaning “bridge-keepers”), was the crucial link between the Ottoman East and the Christian West, connecting Bosnia and Herzegovina both physically and culturally. Once compared to a rainbow rising up to the Milky Way, the beautiful limestone bridge spanned the blue-green Neretva River for more than 400 years. In 1993, when the bridge was destroyed during the Croat-Bosnia civil war and crumbled into the river, the loss was a tremendous blow to the city’s pride. Today the UNESCO World Heritage Site has been reconstructed and the arch is a symbol of peace and cooperation, as well as a reminder of how fragile the ties between men can be. <em><a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>.

  • Helix Bridge, Marina Bay, Singapore

    The youngest bridge on our list is a two-year-old technological marvel. This curved pedestrian-only crossway is fashioned in the shape of a double helix and links Singapore’s Marina Bay to the city’s Marina Bay Sands resort (<em>10 Bayfront Ave.; <a href="" target="_hplink"></a></em>), a luxury casino and hotel overlooking the water. And like others we’ve included on this list, the bridge transforms into an educational wonderland at dusk. The inner spiral is covered with a canopy of glass, and computer-run LED lights play up the corkscrew design. Even better, pairs of colored letters representing the four bases of DNA (cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine, in case you’ve forgotten) are presented in glittering red and green.


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