Architecture / Australia / Austria / Bosnia / History / Italy

Bridges With a Past

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Bridges are normally straightforward structures – sometimes quite striking. They’re built to span a physical obstacle, such as a body of water, a valley, or a roadway, and do nothing more than aid in the movement of vehicles and people. However, on our recent RTW, we were lucky to see several historical bridges that not only performed a function, but also had interesting pasts.

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence is one of the most famous bridges in the world. As its Italian name implies, it really is an “old bridge,” with roots dating back to the Roman Empire. Earlier wooden bridges on this site were destroyed by floods, but the present structure was built in 1345. Over the years shops were added, literally hanging over the river, and today these shops specialize in jewelry and leather goods. Interestingly, it’s said that the term “bankruptcy” originated here. If a merchant didn’t pay his debts, his “banco” (table) was “rotto” (broken) by soldiers. The process was called “bancorotto” (broken table).

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Some bridges have tragic pasts. The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia is not particularly unusual, nor well known, but an event that occurred on its north end in 1914 was the catalyst for a disastrous world event. A Bosnian freedom fighter assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on this bridge, which plunged Austria-Hungary and the rest of Europe into World War I. The civilian and military deaths from this war were 35 million, all started by two gunshots on a small bridge, immortalized as “the shot heard around the world.”

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Mostar, Bosnia, which is also no stranger to war, was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) at the Stari Most (Old Bridge). Constructed by the Ottoman Turks in 1566, it was considered a marvel of ingenuity, and eventually became the symbol for the city. In the early 90s, Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, resulting in a horrific war, which eventually came to Mostar. An 18-month siege by Yugoslav troops destroyed the original bridge. Today, Bosnians see the reconstructed bridge as an important sign of their recovery from the appalling war.

And finally, there are few historic bridges in the world that have a view like the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge. Built in 1932, the bridge provides a dramatic view of the beautiful Sydney harbor, skyline, and the Opera House. It’s not only a functional structure, but also a destination. Tourists are outfitted in special protective clothing, attached to a lifeline, and allowed to hike to the apex of the bridge. This “Bridgeclimb” isn’t for the faint of heart, and we decided to delay our climb for the next RTW.

Happy Trails,
James

22 thoughts on “Bridges With a Past

    • Please keep me posted on how it goes. When we visited, I used the weather as an excuse, but truthfully, I’m not sure that I could’ve pulled it off on the nicest of days. There should be some nice, unique angles for photos of the Opera House. Good luck! ~James

  1. I was in Florence in May and strolled across Ponte Vecchio! I did my best to stay out of all of the gold and leather stores for fear of seeing something I just had to have! Bridges have always fascinated me. We have quite a few dry laid stone arch bridges and covered bridges here in NH and I’ve been photographing them by county. The history behind them always amazes me.

    • I love these old stone bridges Laura. We’ve been camping in the Fingerlakes of NY, and there are lots of great old stone bridges built by the CCC in the state parks. Their bridges, cabins, and shelters were wonderful projects, and are a testament to solid construction. Were the CCC active in NH? ~James

      • Hi James, I’m not sure about the CCC. I’ll have to look into that. I was in Watkins Glen last year and fell in love with the finger lakes region…can you say beautiful scenery AND wine tasting!? If you’re headed east when you leave that region and make it to NH we’ll have to get together! ~Laura

  2. Great post and your pictures capture them. I think though that bridges are much more than just connecting points. Without them there would be greatly reduced commerce and trade as well as connecting people and place – That to me is why past history of bridges is so fascinating. I loved the piece on bankruptcy – I had never heard this!

    • Interesting point Marilyn. Un-bridged rivers and gorges have been impediments to commerce, communication, and travel through the ages. I’m sure that there’s a book out there somewhere about the strategic importance of bridges in history, and it would be an interesting read. ~James

  3. We have loved snapping photos of the lovely bridges we have seen since our RV travels but have not explored the history of them. I thoroughly enjoyed not only your photos but the history behind these beautiful structures.

    • Thanks LuAnn. I wouldn’t qualify myself as a bridge geek, but I have a strong interest. I suspect that most bridges have a story if you look hard enough, but some just stand out. As I said in another comment, I particularly like the old stone arch bridges built by the CCC. They were exactly what were needed at the time, and in addition to being masterpieces of construction, they’re still functional and attractive to look at today. ~James

  4. Bridges! Symbolic, hsitoric and beautiful. Thanks for the lovely photos and history. I passed on climbing the Sydney Harbor bridge, because I am afraid of heights, but now I wished I would have.

    I see Touring NH above in the comments. I tried to get some good photos of covered bridges in Vermont recently, but it was hard to get a good vantage point. And I didn’t even know about NH bridges. I needed some guidance!

    Here’s an interesting post from a retired bridge engineer from Hong Kong. http://retireediary.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/travel-theme-bridges/

    • Not to worry Catherine. You won’t get any grief from me, because I wimped out on the Sydney bridge as well. I haven’t been to NH recently, but I’m sure there are tons of wonderful old bridges that would make a great photo essay. And thanks for the link. I’ve trudged across a few of these bridges. And I had forgotten about the bridge in Riga, which we walked across on a cold, windy, and busy traffic day … not the best of plans. ~James

    • Thanks Sheena. Our posts aren’t always photo-driven, but frequently they are. I enjoy going back through our photos and making connections that may or may not have existed when the photos were taken. I also enjoy research which provides an opportunity to find out a bit more about the history of people and places. I have a lot of fun doing these posts, and I’m glad you enjoy them. ~James

  5. can’t restrain myself from linking a picture of my hometown’s bridge, the “Ponte Coperto” in Pavia:

    it was rebuilt after being destroyed by bombings in II WW, and googling for pictures I found a video with a collection of historical photographs:

    • I haven’t been to Pavia, and wasn’t aware of this bridge. Thanks for the photo and the video link. The reconstructed bridge is beautiful, and is a style that has always appealed to me. After WWII, and probably most wars, reconstruction of infrastructure is necessary to restore life to normal. But, I’m sure that, in cases like the Pavia bridge, it’s a big part of the psychological recovery that must happen in a devastated city. ~James

    • It’s interesting that such a momentous event happened on this bridge, and there’s only one sign at the end of the bridge. For something so important, I’d expect a monument or something larger. But maybe, authorities don’t want to bring attention to it. ~James

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