In ancient Chinese architecture, bridge construction was unmatched. Arch bridges and suspension bridges originated in China. More than a million stone arch bridges were constructed throughout China’s history, and the long-lasting characteristics of them are astonishing. Here are the four most important bridges you need to know about:
Zhaozhou Bridge (Single-arch stone bridge) 1412 years old
Also known as Anji Bridge, or Great Stone Bridge, this is the oldest standing bridge in China, and the oldest open-spandrel stone segmental arch bridge in the world. Zhaozhou Bridge is located in the southern part of Hebei Province in northeast China. It was constructed more than 1,400 years ago and has the nicknames “King of Bridges” and “Bridge Deity of Longevity.”
Built during the Sui Dynasty (581-618), construction of the Zhaozhou Bridge was led by master architect Li Chunchu, and took 10 years. It is 167 feet long, 31 feet wide, and the bridge’s main arch spans 123 feet. Its shape is pleasing to the eyes, and the construction is incredibly solid.
What makes the Zhaozhou Bridge outstanding is that with an arch span of 123 feet, it has remained standing for 14 centuries, despite 10 major floods, eight wars, and numerous earthquakes.
Exquisite engravings guide traffic along the bridge. A center lane guides people towards the center to prevent overloading the sides. In the early 1950s, Mao Yisheng, a 20th century bridge structure expert, tested the bridge’s load-bearing capacity. He found that Zhaozhou Bridge can bear as much as eight tons, a capacity seldom needed in ancient times.
Luoyang Bridge (Sea-crossing stone bridge) 952 years old
Just as the historical Tianjin Bridge was never located in Tianjin, Luoyang Bridge isn’t actually in Luoyang. It’s located in Huian County, Fujian Province.
Luoyang Bridge is the earliest sea-crossing stone bridge, crossing over the Luoyang River where it meets the sea. The Luoyang River was originally called the Leyang River. Emperor Xuanzong (846-859 A.D.) of the Tang Dynasty renamed it Luoyang when he toured the area. The local landscape reminded him of the historic Luoyang City, the capital of many ancient dynasties.
The construction of the bridge began in the year 1,053 during the Northern Song Dynasty and was completed in 1,059. The original bridge was 3,940 feet long, over 16 feet wide, and 24 feet high. Extensively damaged in the War of Resistance against Japan, the bridge was rebuilt and is now 2,395 feet long, 14.8 feet wide, and 24 feet high.
Built of granite, it has 44 boat-shaped bridge piers, 645 handrails, 104 stone lions, 1 stone pavilion, and 7 stone towers. They bred oyster beds at the base of the bridge as reinforcement, which was an important innovation.
The Luoyang Bridge has survived wars and natural disasters, including typhoons and earthquakes.
Lugou Bridge (10-piered, multi-arched stone bridge)
819 years old
The Lugou Bridge, also known as Marco Polo Bridge because it was highly praised by Marco Polo on his trip to China, is the only ancient bridge in the world that can sustain a 400 ton load. It is located in Beijing and was constructed more than 800 years ago. It is famous for the countless lion sculptures that sit on the pillars along the sides of the bridge.
The bridge is also where the Marco Polo Incident occurred in 1937. The fighting during the Marco Polo Incident led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). The Lugou Bridge is also known for holding the 400 ton flatbed truck that drove across it in 1975.
Why is the load-bearing capability of the Lugou Bridge so high? Construction on the Lugou Bridge began in 1,189 A.D. during the Jin Dynasty. Construction was completed in 1,192. The bridge is made of solid granite and is supported on 10 piers. It is 874 feet long and 30.5 feet wide, and was built to resist the flooding and the strong currents of the Yongding River, thereby securing safe passage to Beijing.
Luding Bridge (Iron-chain suspension bridge)
305 years old
The Luding Bridge is built over the Dadu River in Luding County, Sichuan Province. It is the oldest chain suspension bridge in China, and a milestone in architecture.
Construction was completed in 1,706 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. It was built 96 years ahead of the first chain suspension bridge in North America, and 36 years ahead of the first one in Europe.
The bridge is 405 feet long, 10 feet wide and is suspended 33 feet above the river. It is supported by 13 thick iron chains—9 of which cross under the bottom to bear the load, and the other 4 deployed along the two sides as handrails to safeguard travel. The iron chains of Luding Bridge are, on average, 420 feet long, each weighing one-and-a-half to two tons.
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