There are two different types of historic bridges: One that stands out in terms of its design and history and one that integrates itself in a setting, where if visited, one can experience the culture that both the bridge and the area surrounding it offer. One cannot modernize with a new crossing without understanding the implications they have with the neighborhood or landscape. And this is where this guest column comes about.
I happened to stumble across this column by accident and wished I hadn’t for I have yet to visit Italy and explore some of the finest bridges in the country. Italy is home to thousands of crossings dating as far back as the Roman Empire. This include some of the bridges that were built before and rebuilt after the fall of the Empire, including some by King Theoderich (see my article on this topic), such as the aqueducts in Rome (as described in another article here.) Then there are the bridges serving the waters of Florence……
….and this city, Venice.
Home to over 2.5 million inhabitants (with 260,000 living directly in the city center), the city is home to over 430 bridges, including two of the most famous landmarks of the city: The Ponte di Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs. Both of these bridges, dating back to the late 1500s, are part of the majority that can be easily reached by boat or gondola. A guide to the highly recommended bridges to visit in Venice can be accessed by link here.
Yet this guest column written by a columnist who focuses on life in cities and sunsets, puts together Venice’s historic bridges with the colorful faces that the city has to offer. It is a long column about her adventures through the city, and her impressions lead to readers like this one to add this city to the places to visit and bridgehunt- very high up in the Top 3. To look at Venice’s bridges, have a look at the summary below and click to read to the end. When done, you will not regret it like I didn’t but more like provide an incentive to go there and have a look. Enjoy! 🙂
The city of bridges, as it is fondly known, is everything you would imagine it to be. It has a surreal feeling when there, living up to all of its stereotypical features; pretty bridges over winding canals, narrow paths nestled between old tall brick buildings, gondolas and motor boats carrying fruit and vegetables, singing gondoliers […]
Each country has a bridge or a set of bridges which one can associate with on an international scale. France is famous for its bridges along the Rhone and Seine as well as the Millau Viaduct. Italy has the Rialto and the bridges of Florence and Venice. Canada has the Quebec Bridge and the Lions Gate. While we have two bridges in the US we can take pride in- the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate, the one that has received more recognition than the other from a foreigner’s point of view is the Golden Gate Bridge
At 75 years of age, the golden girl was the work of engineering genius Joesph Strauss and the hundreds of workers who spent eight years creating a tall orange monster that rose from the water, spanned the Golden Gate connecting San Francisco and the rest of the northern half of the Pacific Coast and created an image that is breath-taking and typical of San Francisco. It is one of the most internationally recognized structures that one can associate with, especially when it comes to the question of being typically American.
Beneath this image lies a dark side to America’s infrastructure and in particular its bridges. While most Americans take pride in the golden girl and maintain its upkeep, the majority of the bridges in America have become a victim of modernization, where old highly prized works of architecture constructed between 1860 and 1930 are becoming prey to bland architectural works that engineers and highway agencies tout as a step moving forward but in all reality are real eyesores, high maintenance, and in the end, last a fraction as long as their predecessors. Too many examples of bridges lost can be found, whether it was the Manchester and Point Bridges of Pittsburgh, The Grace and Pearlman Bridges in Charleston, South Carolina, the Fort Steuben Bridge near Wheeling, West Virginia, Eagle Point Bridge in Dubuque, Iowa, The New Franklin Viaduct in Missouri, just to name a few. These were works of art that started in the steel mills as bridge parts or quarries as stone pieces that were transported hundreds or even thousands of miles to their final destination where they were erected on site. It is unknown how many workers on average were responsible for putting these structures together and integrating them into the fabric of America’s transportation system, but the number is huge.
It is unknown why these bridges had to be replaced except to say that there are too many factors, whether it is due to a lack of maintenance of the structures or a lack of interest in preserving these structures or even a lack of funding needed to preserve them. In either case, what we are seeing are more dollars and sense and less of the history and culture that these bridges stand for. It is like there is a lack of appreciation towards these historic structures and all of the toil and energy that it took to build them. It makes a person wonder if the wrecking ball will come for the more recognized structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge in favor of a cable-stayed bridge that has a lack of taste toward the city of San Francisco and America….
Fortunately though, it is not the case. The Golden Gate Bridge is alive and well, thanks to all the money and effort needed in maintaining the structure. As for the other historic bridges that are still standing, there are a growing number of Americans that still appreciate them and are taking the efforts to save them for others to see, whether it is incorporating them into a bike trail network, as we’re seeing more and more of that, or creating a park for these bridges, like the one near Battle Creek, Michigan and Iowa City. In places like Indiana and Texas, bridges are being refurbished, piece by piece, to serve traffic for many years to come. And those that are still in use but are approaching the end of their service life, there are more considerations to saving them for reuse instead of demolishing them. The mentality of the Americans has changed over the past 20 years, going from a throw-away society to that of reusing things. Part of that is for environmental reasons but the other part is for the purpose of preserving what is left of our culture and integrating them into our lives.
As David Plowden once mentioned in a book on bridges of North America: People tend to build bridges for the purpose of achieving something and not for achievement itself. This expression was based on earlier history where architecture in America was based on building things quickly and efficiently. This may be true to an extent, yet the bridges of the past are much nicer than those of today. It has something to do with its appearance, but even more, it has something to do with its association with the people who live near them, the community it is integrated in, and the American History that should not be forgotten. While we will see more newer and fancier structures on America’s road in the future, there will be more historic bridges preserved for future generations as many Americans do care a great deal about their prized work of art and the ancestors that put it together for people to use.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like wish everyone a Happy 4th of July. Take some time to go to a nearest historic bridge near your home and think about the structure and how it was built, how it is associated with your lives and your community, how it became part of local and regional history and more importantly, how it can be preserve, should the time come for it to be retired from service. Chances are that 99 times out of 100, your bridge will be as valuable as the Golden Gate Bridge and there will be many reasons to save the structure for future use.
There is a misconception about how a person should define a house bridge, for the appearance of such a structure in the eyes of both Americans and Europeans alike are different. In America, we think of a house bridge like a covered bridge- a small house-like structure with a gabled roof and entrances on both ends. These covered bridges are easy to find in America, for they are numerous and popular among tourists, and many state transportation departments take great care of them to ensure that they are attractive to see and safe to cross.
In Europe however, despite the fact that one can find covered bridges everywhere, including the Alps and local places mostly unknown to tourists, our definition of a house bridge is different. Unlike the covered bridges, a house bridge is defined as a bridge which holds buildings but the passage is open-aired, meaning you cannot cross these bridges just by walking through the buildings, but through these passage ways that have no roofs above them.
Many of these house bridges were built during and after the Medieval times, including the Rialto Bridge in Venice or the famous London Bridge before its relocation to Lake Havasu City, Arizona in 1967. But in Germany, we have the Kraemerbruecke, located in the heart of the country in the city of Erfurt, and the third part of the series on Erfurt’s bridges focuses on this particular structure.
The Kraemerbruecke was first mentioned in the record books in 1117 as a wooden bridge crossing the Breitstrom section of the Gera River connecting Fischmarkt on the west end and the Wenige Markt market square on the east end. While it was rebuilt at least six times due to fires, the municipality in 1293 acquired all rights from the monasteries that had owned the bridge and built a permanent structure featuring stone arches supporting timber stands and gated church towers on each end- St. Benedict on the west end and St. Aegidian on the east side, the latter of which still stands today. After a fire in 1472 which destroyed half of the city and severely damaged the bridge, it was then decided to construct timber houses across the bridge, using trusses to support them and whose height rose to three stories. A total of 68 houses were built on each side of the bridge, allowing passage space of up to 5.5 meters for people and goods to cross. A story was once mentioned that there was one way passage across the bridge- going eastward only in the morning and westward in the afternoon, with those wanting to go against the scheduled flow of traffic being left with no choice but to ford the river located next to the bridge. While this rule no longer exists, crossing the bridge today, one can see the narrow passage, together with the huge masses of people going in and out of the shops that exist.
Today’s bridge is no different than the one that existed during the Medieval Ages. There are fewer houses on the bridge, but mainly due to owners consolidating them to provide more space and housing. Work on the bridge was done in three phases: restoring the houses between 1967 and 1973, reconstructing the arches and vaults in 1986, and reinforcing the bridge and the housing in 2002. Despite this, the bridge is one of the darlings of the city of Erfurt. It is the only bridge of its kind north of the Alps on the European Mainland. There are a few house bridges remaining that exist, like the Bridgehouse in Ambleside and the Pulteney Bridge in Bath (both in the UK), and the aforementioned Rialto Bridge in Venice, however the Kraemerbruecke today represents an example of a bridge with multiple-story housing that still has businesses and residences. A festival honoring the structure takes place every year in June, where hundreds of thousands of people visit the bridge. It is an integral part of the city’s annual Christmas market, taking place between the end of November and right before Christmas Eve.
And even on a regular business day, thousands cross this bridge to see the many stores that offer local specialties and unique items worth taking with to show family and friends. This includes the Thuringian shop near the Aegidean Tower, which sells wine, mustard, and other goods. Across the passage is the famous Erfurt Brueckentrueffel shop, which sells thimble-shaped bridge truffles made of dark chocolate and other ingredients that are made by hand and using local products. There is the left-hand-shop located near the middle of the bridge, which sells products made solely for left-handed people. Also on the bridge are a pair of souvenir shops, a café offering local wines, an art gallery and the Kraemerbruecke Stiftung, a foundation devoted strictly to the bridge and its importance to the city of Erfurt. And if one has an appetite, there is the Kraemerbruecke Cafe located on the site of the former St. Benedict tower (the tower was razed in 1810), which offers a wide array of local pastries.
If you happen to visit Thuringia someday, or happen to pass through its capital of Erfurt, and ask someone about the places that should be visited, do not be surprised if nine out of ten residents say that the Kraemerbruecke is a must-see apart from the Cathedral, the market squares and the churches. This Medieval bridge has survived many fires and bombings to become an even more attractive place to see than ever before. It has earned its place as an integral part of the city and its history, and in light of the most recent bridge festival, it stands out as part of Germany’s heritage, which will surely be considered a World Heritage site. It is a bridge that every pontist and bridge photographer should see once in his/her life, and learn about. While each city has its own bridge representing a part of its history- New York City with the Brooklyn Bridge, San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge, London with Tower Bridge and Berlin with both the Oberbaum-Bridge and the Jungfern pedestrian bridge, Erfurt has its Kraemerbruecke, the greatest and most popular of the 258 bridges that serve the city of 400,000 inhabitants.
According to Vockrodt in a publication on Pont Habités, part of the European Bridge Culture (published in 2011), approximately 30 house bridges were built between the 13th and 18th centuries, with the majority of them located in Paris. The Parisians built at least five of these bridges over the Seine, including the Pont Notre Dame, Quai de Gevres, Pont aux Meuniers, Pont au Change and Pont Marchand. All of these bridges were either destroyed by fire or lost their houses to demolition. The largest of the house bridges in Europe was the Pont Notre Dame, which featured two bridges crossing the Seine and the island where the Cathedral of Norte Dame was located, with houses of 3-4 stories high.
Now that the tour of Erfurt’s bridges is complete, the last two segments will feature a book review and the interview with Vockrodt and Baumbach about the bridges in the city.