Bridges have been around as long as people have traveled. When a person arrived at a steam or body of water they wanted to cross they couldn’t always wade or swim across. Nor were there always ferries or watercraft available to take them.

The first bridges were provided by nature herself. These took the forms of either simple spans – as made by a fallen log – or simple fords – made by rocks being thrown into a river to build up the bed.

The first man-made spans were probably wooden logs held together with simple crossbeams, perhaps lashed together with flax or twine.

Arkadiko Bridge. Image:

Arkadiko Bridge. Image:

One of the oldest extant bridges in the world is the Arkadiko Bridge in the Peloponnese, in Greece. This Mycenaean Corbel arch bridge dates back to the Greek Bronze Age (13th century BC). The bridge is still in use today; but was built to connect a network of roads between Tiryns and Epdaos.

However, bridge-building flourished in the time of the Romans. The Roman empire  depended upon its army. The Roman army depended upon speed. To that end Roman engineers laid hundreds of thousands of roads and built hundreds (if not thousands) of bridges throughout Europe and Britain.

Initally the Romans built their bridges from wood. But these were liable to rot and could easily be burned by enemies or washed away in floods. To correct this the Romans began building bridges from stone – laying the footings in the riverbed itself.

Everything changed, however, when the Romans learned of the strength of the arch.

Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct near Nimes in France. Image:

Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct near Nimes in France. Image:

Arch bridges and aqueducts could withstand immense loads and all conditions.  This new design was impregnable to fire, flood and most foes; hus allowing the Romans armies swift, safe travel throughout their conquered lands.

To bind the enormous blocks of stone used for bridge constructions the Romans used cement called pozzolana. It was a mixture of water, lime, sand, and volcanic rock.

By the 4th century the Indians were using plaited bamboo and iron chain to create strong yet flexible bridges. These were created for commercial as well as military purposes and keenly guarded by Murghal administrators.

The Chinese were building stone bridge in the sixth century. One of the oldst is the Zhaoshou Bridge constructed between 595 and 605 Ad, duing the Sui Dynasty. This bridge still stands as the world’s oldest open-spandrel stone segmented arch bridge.

The Incas were using rope bridges in the 16th century (just prior to European colonization). Owing to difficult terrain, the Incas were often unable to build more permanent structures. These simple suspension structures were cheap and efficient methods to connect  people.

Innovations in resources (such as timber) allowed for bridges to be built with lighter material – without any loss of strength

But the major breakthrough came with the successful completion of the Coalbroke Iron Bridge in England 1779. This was the first time cast iron had been used in the formation of an arched bridge.

The world's first cast iron bridge, crossing the River Severn in Shropshire, England (1779). Image:

The world’s first cast iron bridge, crossing the River Severn in Shropshire, England (1779). Image:

In the 19th century cast iron bridges were improved upon by a truss system of construction. This, in turn, gave way to wrought iron. The tensile strength of wrought iron allowed for longer spans to be constructed. This meant fewer supports and thus a much cheaper cost in terms of resources and building time.

In 1929 Stefan Bryla astounded the world by building the first ever welded road bridge (the Maurzyce Bridge) across the river Sludwia at Maurzyce, near Lowicz in Poland.





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