We don’t usually think too much about bridges. Most of them are simply functional, there to help us cross canals or rivers or even canyons. There are many different kinds of bridges, with many different functions. Some of them are used by pedestrians, some of them are used by cars, and others still are used by railways. Overall though, most people don’t give bridges a second thought. They’re just there when we need them to be. Not all of them were “just there,” of course, and over the centuries, there have been a number of bridges that advanced both function and form; in fact, bridge-building has become not only a feat of engineering but an artistic endeavor as well. With many bridges offering not only a pathway from one side to the other but some breathtaking architecture, there are some bridges that have become truly iconic. Here’s a look at 10 of the most fascinating and iconic bridges in the world.
11. Tower Bridge (U.K.)
We might be more familiar with the refrain “London Bridge is falling down,” but the Tower Bridge, a combined suspension and bascule construction, is probably the most iconic bridge across the River Thames today. Built-in the late 19th century as a response to increased commercial activity in the east end of England’s capital city, the Tower Bridge has become symbolic of London. Although the bridge has 2 towers, it takes its name from the nearby Tower of London.
The bridge posed a problem for river traffic, as tall ships navigating the River Thames in the late 19th century would be cut off from the Pool of London, a port between London Bridge and the Tower of London. The idea to make the bridge a bascule construction, which would allow the passage of tall ships when the bascules were raised, solved this issue, and construction was completed in 1894. The pedestrian walkway between the 2 towers, above the bascules, serves as an exhibition space. Before the 2012 Summer Olympics, the bridge was given a facelift and was featured prominently during the opening ceremonies of the Games.
10. Pont Neuf (France)
Although Pont Neuf is now the oldest standing bridge over the river Seine in Paris, it was given the name “New Bridge” when it was constructed between 1578 and 1607. The bridge stands at the western point of the Ile de la Cite, the medieval heart of Paris. The name was meant to differentiate the bridge from older bridges that were lined with houses on either side of the Seine. The bridge is composed of 2 spans and connects the Ile de la Cite with the rest of Paris. Major renovations were undertaken in 1994 and completed in 2007, just in time for the bridge’s 400th anniversary.
The Pont Neuf was the center of Parisian life during the 18th and 19th centuries, with many street performers, peddlers, and even informal businesses and criminals all being drawn to the bridge. Today, the bridge is just one of many famous sites in Paris. Along with other bridges over the river Seine, the Pont Neuf has been afflicted by “lovelocks,” which have become such a problem that Parisian officials are looking for ways to stop lovers from placing padlocks on 11 bridges in the area.
9. Jade Belt Bridge (China)
Sometimes referred to as “Camelback Bridge,” the Jade Belt Bridge is one of the most famous bridges in China and, indeed, in Southeast Asia. Its single, thin arch has made it the representative of the “moon bridge” construction common in Southeast Asian countries. This distinctive Asian form is used in formal garden design and placed to reflect the arch in still water, creating a perfect circle that represents the moon. The bridges were originally constructed to allow pedestrians to pass over canals while allowing barges to pass underneath. The construction also has the advantage of not using up extra land on either side of the shore.
The Jade Belt Bridge is the most famous of 6 bridges on the western shore of Kunming Lake. It was constructed between 1751 and 1764, during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, on the grounds of Beijing’s Summer Palace. The high arch of the bridge resembles delicate bridge styles from around the countryside of southern China and was selected to allow the Emperor’s dragon boat to pass underneath it during special occasions. Made of marble and other white stone, the bridge is ornately decorated with carvings of cranes and other animals on the railings.
8. Segovia Aqueduct (Spain)
The Romans are renowned as the premier bridge-builders of the ancient world, and the monuments they left behind attest to their ingenuity. One of the best-preserved examples is the Segovia Aqueduct, located in Segovia, Spain. Although the exact date of its construction has not been determined, it is assumed to date from the 1st century A.D. and it is now known that the Roman Emperor Domititian ordered its construction.
The aqueduct transports water from the Fuenta Fria in the nearby mountains, running 17 kilometers to La Acebeda and then continuing another 15 kilometers to the city itself. The aqueduct has been constructed and reconstructed over the intervening centuries and is Segovia’s best-known landmark today, even being incorporated on the city’s coat of arms. The aqueduct contains 167 arches total and reaches heights of up to 93.5 feet from top to bottom. The aqueduct is no longer used and hasn’t been since the 19th century, and the structure has continued to decay and is now listed on the watch list of the World Monument Fund.
7. The Iron Bridge (U.K.)
At the time of its construction, the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, England, was hailed as an engineering wonder. Built during the Industrial Revolution, the bridge was the first arch bridge in the world to be constructed of cast iron. Iron, which had been smelted in Shropshire, was the main export of the area and was shipped down the River Severn. However, the nearest river crossing was almost 2 miles away. The bridge is made of 5 cast iron ribs that cross the river, a span of 100 feet. While not the longest bridge ever, it was still a feat when it opened in 1781.
Between 1750 and 1830, over 50 painters arrived in the area to document the industrialization, and after the bridge opened, many of them painted or drew the bridge. The Royal Academy held an exhibition in 1979 to celebrate the bridge’s bicentenary, and repairs were finished in 1981 in time for the celebrations. The bridge became a pedestrian thoroughfare in 1934. Today, the bridge is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ironbridge Gorge and a point of interest on the South Telford Heritage Path.
6. Capilano Suspension Bridge (Canada)
It’s one of the most common bridge tropes of our time: you’re crossing a rickety rope suspension bridge through the mountains. The bridge begins to sway; the ropes fray; a few of the boards holding it together tumble thousands of feet to the river below. The rope snaps and— yikes.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is probably the source of most of these fears. This simple rope suspension bridge was constructed in 1888. It crosses the Capilano River in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. The bridge, which spans 460 feet and is suspended 230 feet above the river, draws almost 800,000 visitors each year. Completely rebuilt in 1956, the bridge is surrounded by ancient Douglas fir tree forest and has been featured in TV series, including MacGyver and Sliders. A famous psychological experiment was also conducted on the bridge, where men who were approached by a woman on the fear-inducing swing bridge were more likely to call her later than men who were approached on a more solid bridge. Capilano Suspension Bridge is almost guaranteed to get your heart thumping.
5. Bridge of Sighs (Italy)
Venice is a city full of bridges, but perhaps none are quite so iconic as the one known as the Bridge of Sighs. This limestone structure served as a pathway across the Rio di Palazzo, connecting the New Prison and the interrogation rooms of the Doge’s Palace. It was designed and constructed in the early 17th century. It is an enclosed bridge with bars over the windows. Prisoners were shuffled between their cells and interrogation rooms. In the 19th century, the English poet Lord Byron gave the bridge its name, suggesting that convicts would sigh at their last view of beautiful Venice before being sent to the dungeons. While this is more wistful fantasy than anything, the name stuck.
Gondoliers often pass under the bridge and a local legend says that if 2 lovers kiss as they pass beneath the bridge during a sunset gondola ride, while the bells of the nearby St. Mark’s Campanile toll, they will be granted eternal love and bliss. Now that’s one legend we’d be willing to test out!
4. Sydney Harbour Bridge (Australia)
Nicknamed ‘The Coathanger’ because of its steel arch design, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is most definitely Australia’s most iconic bridge and lands in our list of most iconic in the world. Opening in 1932, this bridge doesn’t have the same history as some on this list but its design and location have earned its recognizable status nonetheless.
Sydney Harbour Bridge is the tallest steel arch bridge with a height of 440 feet and the 6th longest spanning arch bridge in the world. Up until 2012, it was also the world’s widest long-span bridge at 160 feet wide and 1,650 feet long. The bridge is used by many each day as it carries rail, vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians from Sydney’s CBD to the North Shore. One popular tourist activity here is to climb the massive steel structure, which you can do through BridgeClimb. Tours run each day from dawn until night, this is one amazing and heart-racing way to get a spectacular view of the world-famous Sydney Harbour and Sydney Opera House.
3. Brooklyn Bridge (U.S.)
There’s a reason the Brooklyn Bridge is an icon; in fact, there are several reasons. The bridge, which spans the East River and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, was opened in 1883. It’s a hybrid suspension/cable-stayed bridge and represents one of the oldest constructions of either type in the U.S. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972.
The bridge spans almost 6,000 feet and handles almost 125,000 vehicles per day. Its design was made 6 times as strong as necessary and is one of the main reasons the bridge is still standing today. The diagonal cables were added to reinforce the bridge; although they turned out to be unnecessary, they were kept for their aesthetic quality. The Brooklyn Bridge is currently under full renovation. This will ensure that the bridge, which has become a symbol of New York City and American optimism, will remain a cultural icon, featured in movies, poems, and works of art for years to come.
2. Alcantara Bridge (Spain)
The Romans were prolific builders of bridges throughout their empire and many of their constructions still stand today, despite the march of years. One such bridge is the Alcantra Bridge over the Tajo River in Spain. The bridge was built between 104 and 106 AD, upon orders from Emperor Trajan in 98 AD. The stone arch bridge once measured 190 meters in length but has been reduced to 182 or so meters today, partially due to continued damage to the structure in various wars throughout the centuries.
The bridge has 6 arches, all of which are typical of Roman architecture. Portions of the bridge have been blown up or destroyed by the French, the Moors, and even the Spanish themselves, who destroyed one of the arches to stop the advance of an invading Portuguese army. As late as 1563, stones from the original quarries were used to replace damaged sections of the structure. In 1860, mortared masonry was used to carry out repairs to the bridge. The central pier bears the Latin inscription ontem perpetui mansurum in saecula (meaning ‘I have built a bridge which will last forever’).
1. Golden Gate Bridge (U.S.)
If you had to pick one bridge in the world to demonstrate to an alien being what a bridge was, you’d probably pick the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge has become such an icon, featured in countless films and television shows and even used as a symbol of San Francisco itself, that it might just be “the bridge.” It needs no further introduction.
Opened in 1937, the suspension bridge was the longest of any suspension bridge in the world for 30 years when it was finally surpassed in 1964. The bridge was considered a marvel at the time of its construction, spanning almost 9,000 feet across the Golden Gate strait. The bridge connects San Francisco with Marin County. Today, the bridge is recognized as one of the most beautiful bridges in the world, although it wasn’t always beautiful; initial designs were rejected because they were considered too ugly. The bridge, with its lights and its bright, international orange paint job, is highly visible against the blue of San Francisco Bay and even in the fog and at night. The bridge’s towers incorporate Art Deco details and there’s a reason this is the most iconic bridge in the world!