Bridging Global Cities

Feb 22, 2013 3:12:49 AM / by Stephanie Sadler

"Connecting Global Cities" is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Director of China Programs for CAPA International Education.

- - -

When one arrives in a big city for the first time, where does one go to find one's bearings and scope things out? What symbol of that city does one bring along as an image of what might be found? There's a good chance the list will include a bridge.

I recall my first visit to San Francisco. What made me feel I was really there? It was finally driving across the Golden Gate Bridge - seen in many old movies - there was one where the bridge was twisting and bending in a violent storm. Bridges seem to loom up as one approaches, often temporarily hidden by a bend in the road, finally re-appearing with an awesome presence

Bridges regularly become the shorthand picture symbol of a city - instantly recognisable without words - Tower Bridge in London readily performs that function. Who would visit the Big Apple without a gaze up at the George Washington Bridge, or Sydney without going to the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

Bridges of course usually have to cross water and that is another unifying factor. Water, whether it be from a river or a harbour is an historically vital resource for enabling transportation. Indeed many big cities are where they are because of water - The Romans built Londinium because of its strategic location sufficiently inland yet close to the estuary on a crossable part of the River Thames and suitable in later times to provide nearby ultimately the Port of London. The Port of Los Angeles, the harbours of Buenos Aires and Sydney and Shanghai (literally "the city on the way to the sea"), a key Treaty Port in the 1800s, are all where they are because of water.

That water can provide great waterfront dining areas, luxury housing with great views, river-walks, beaches and harbour and river cruises. What better than to sit out in nice weather in a waterfront cafe and gaze up at the architectural magnificence of the nearby bridge?

Of course water can divide cities and thus bridges help unite them. The River Thames divides North London from South London and bridges provide both bottlenecks and focus in road patterns. The River Seine in Paris has its Left Bank and Right Bank. Florence's River Arno divides the famous Uffizi Museum from the famous Pitti Palace. Shanghai's Huangpu River divides historic (but now also very modern) Puxi (West of the River) from modern Pudong (East of the River). The Bosphorus Straits help divide Europe from Asia.

Every one of CAPA's global cities (Beijing, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Florence, Istanbul, London, Shanghai, Sydney) has at least one, and typically more than one, famous, often iconic, bridge, Let's take a closer look.

Photo: Beijing's Marco Polo Bridge by Colin Speakman

BEIJING'S MARCO POLO BRIDGE. Students visiting the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall see an interesting historical information movie where images of many sailing ships cram the river and the explorer/traveller Marco Polo comes to visit the capital in the late 13th Century. He reports on Beijing as the most advanced city in the world in his travelogue. He describes the Lugou Qiao (Lugou Bridge) in that work as “a very fine stone bridge, so fine indeed, that it has very few equals in the world.” Its mention in the travelogue gives rise to its alternative name. Erected in 1189, the elaborate structure is Beijing’s oldest marble bridge and 853 feet long across what used to be the Yongding River (now in summer often without water and in winter a little and frozen). More than 500 carved Stone Lions run across the balustrade of this 11 arched bridge. It lies next to Wanping area of Beijing in Fentai District. Recognizing its importance, the bridge was restored by the Kangxi Emperor (1662–1722) and has been further refurbished since. It has a more recent claim to fame too in the last century. “The Marco Polo Bridge Incident” was a battle between the Republic of China's National Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army on 7 July 1937 and is often used as the marker for the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). There is nearby a museum and sculpture garden which also commemorates this. Currently 20 rmb (about $3) to walk across it, but definitely our most historic bridge in this list!

Photo: Marco Polo Bridge Detail by Colin Speakman

BUENOS AIRES' PUENTE DE LA MUJER. This bridge is located on the Puerto Madero Waterfront, a district of Buenos Aires (BA) along the Rio de la Plata riverbank and home to some of the latest architectural trends in the capital. Thus a great place to hang out – I did as did students - and while enjoying the general scenery, it is hard to miss the bridge known also as “Woman’s Bridge” (Puente de la Mujer). It is pretty modern among our collection as it dates from 2001. It was donated by Alberto L. Gonzales and his family to BA. The bridge was primarily built in Victoria, Spain – a design of Santiago Calatrava, and the architect’s only work in South America – and taken to BA in parts over five months. It is a 355 feet suspension pedestrian bridge assembled in three sections – two static and one mobile in the centre – designed to rotate 90 degrees to allow traffic on the water to pass by. The bridge connects to pedestrian streets on either side of the water. And that name? Well, the design of the bridge is meant to illustrate, in abstract, a couple dancing the Tango, with the man towering over the woman who is leaning back horizontally. Add the fact that the surrounding neighborhood has many streets named after women and you have an explanation for the name of the bridge! Incidentally, you can readily see the Tango performed in the streets of BA and the performances quickly attract a crowd.

Puente de la Mujer / Woman's Bridge
Photo: Puente de la Mujer by Jorge Ferrini

DUBLIN'S LIFFEY BRIDGE. The River Liffey (or Life) originally referred to the plain through which the river ran and is an important source of water and recreation as it flows through the center of Dublin. However, contrary to popular rumor, water from the river is not used in the making of Guinness in the local brewery! Many bridges cross this river but only one officially bears its name. The Liffey Bridge, once also known as the Wellington Bridge, is more commonly known as the Ha’penny Bridge and is a pedestrian bridge built in 1818. The name has an interesting history. Prior to it being built, ferries provided the crossing of the river at this point. They were in poor condition and the operator William Walsh was told to repair them or build a bridge. He chose to build the bridge, connecting Lower Ormond Quay and Wellington Quay at Bachelors’ Walk, and was allowed to charge a half penny from those crossing it for 100 years, using turnstiles at each end of the bridge. Carrying over 27,000 pedestrians a day, the bridge needed renovation in 2001 and was repainted in its original white color. A tradition was that love locks (placed by sweethearts to symbolize their everlasting love) were attached to the bridge, but in 2012 Dublin City Council removed many of these, claiming they created maintenance and damage risk. While you can no longer place a love lock, this attractive bridge, regarded as a symbol of Dublin, is still worth a visit. It gives a good view of the river and access to the famous Temple Bar area – and when I was there I was pleased to see that the toll fee was ended over ninety years ago!

Lovely Night in Dublin - Ha'Penny Bridge Smile =)
Photo: Ha'Penny Bridge in Dublin by Brian

FLORENCE'S PONTE VECCHIO. Surely nobody visits Firenze (Florence) without walking across this “Old Bridge” – there may even have been one in Roman times but the current bridge dates from 1345 (replacing one destroyed by a flood) and it survived World War 2 undamaged. It is definitely Florence’s oldest bridge. It is unusual today (but not in Europe in Middle Ages) in that it has houses and shops built on the sides of the bridge, some with extensions hanging over the River Arno. Today most shops showcase fancy jewelry. It is generally a “pedestrian” bridge but wide enough for emergency service vehicles to cross. The bridge connects the southern part of Florence – think Piazza Santo Spirito - with the Northern part – think Piazza della Repubblica. However, it also connects the Pitti Palace with the Uffizi Gallery specifically as, in the 16th century, the Duke of Florence, Cosimo I de’Medici, built a corridor to connect them so that he would not need to walk at street level across the busy bridge. This corridor, built in 1565, is known as the Corridoio Vasariano (after creator Giorgio Vasari), and built on top of the shops on the right hand side of the bridge crossing from the Pitti Palace. I remember that students always found using this corridor in a tour particularly exciting.

Ponte Vecchio is Florence's most photographed landmarks
Photo: Ponte Vecchio by Ben

ISTANBUL'S BOSPHORUS BRIDGE. Istanbul has a unique identity as Turkey’s largest city (13 million inhabitants) in a country mainly in Asia but with a foot in Europe. Istanbul, predominantly on the European side geographically (while the capital Ankara is well inland on the Asian side), has a massive history, partly in former times as Byzantium and Constantinople. Yet the Bosphorus Bridge only dates from 1973, having been opened on October 30, a day after an anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. It is important because it crosses the Bosphorus Strait and as a result connects the European and the Asian sides. Where else in the world can you cross a bridge and in doing so say you have now visited two continents? Strictly this bridge could be called the First Bosphorus Bridge as a second bridge, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was opened in 1988. There are controversial plans for a third which brings worries of excessive traffic into Istanbul. I still remember my first drive across Bosphorus Bridge, with its many traffic lanes almost 40 meters wide. It has a toll one-way, entering Asia, collected that side of the bridge. It is a magnificent suspension bridge and currently the 16th longest of its kind in the world. Nobody should visit Istanbul without crossing it.

Istanbul: The Bridge
Photo: Bosphorus Bridge by Örgüt Çaylı

LONDON'S TOWER BRIDGE. Notice I am not using London Bridge here. We are talking about current bridges and London’s famous old bridge has gone through many reincarnations, from the time it was the only London crossing of the River Thames. The one, prior to the current one, was demolished, transported to the US State of Arizona and reassembled there. I hope they did not think that they were getting Tower Bridge which is London’s truly globally recognizable bridge. In reality, London Bridge is pretty plain, but that is because it did not need to be so high that large ships could pass under it – nor did any of the other bridges subsequently built West of London Bridge. However, East of London Bridge stood the Port of London and the River Thames was busy with ships and lacking bridges in that part. The design for Tower Bridge was submitted in 1884 by Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry, but it took eight years to complete it, owing to the complex design of a drawer bridge that could be raised when ships needed to pass through it – a process only taking a minute to raise the spans to the maximum angle of 86 degrees. Part of the shape of the bridge is formed by high-level walkways so that pedestrians could still cross the bridge while it was raised. It seemed a good idea at the time and yet few used that route – in 1910 the pedestrian walkways were closed owing to lack of use (reopening more protected in 1982 as part of the “Tower Bridge Exhibition”). When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest bascule (see-saw) bridge ever built and a must see in London. A favourite place for students to have their photos taken in front of – it screams “I am in London!”

Photo: CAPA London students in front of Tower Bridge

SHANGHAI'S LUPU BRIDGE. The first thing to understand is that, although this impressive bridge crosses the HuangPu, Shanghai’s river, historically there was little need for river crossings – by boat was sufficient. This is because traditional Shanghai only existed in Puxi (West of the river) and that is where visitors will find the famous Western influenced riverbank (The Bund), the Peace Hotel, and the former International Concessions, Peoples’ Square, the Yu Garden and all the older stuff. It was not until 1990 when the authorities designated Pudong (East of the river), then simply wasteland and a few warehouses, as a Special Economic Zone that things changed. As a result over two decades Pudong has grown to be another Manhattan, a major international financial center, visitor base with high end hotels, modern cultural centers and some high quality housing. As a result, although ferries still cross the river, and there’s even an underground pedestrian tunnel with “mini-train” service, major bridges (first was the Nanpu Bridge - cable-stayed in 1991), road tunnels, and underground metro-line crossings have all been added. In 2010, Shanghai hosted the World Expo which involved many pavilions erected on both sides of the river. The Lupo Bridge gave a good view of that. It was opened as recently as June 28, 2003, but as the world’s longest arch span at 1,804 ft on a bridge – and the world’s 2nd longest total length arch bridge at 12,795 ft – the longest is also in China, Chaotianmen Bridge in Chongqing, China’s largest municipality. I always look forward to a bus ride across the 6 lane Lupo Bridge when in Shanghai. There are also two pedestrian walkways! Or walk along The Bund and continue to the former Expo Area for a great photo opportunity.

Photo: Shanghai's Lupu Bridge by Colin Speakman

SYDNEY'S HARBOUR BRIDGE. Last, but by no means least. You may know that one guy once changed his name by deed poll to Sydney Harbour Bridge – one way to become famous for a short while. This bridge may well rival Tower Bridge as one of the most recognizable symbols of a city, partly because it is right next to the famous Sydney Opera House and both icons often appear in the same photo. Arguably it has become the foremost symbol of Australia as a whole (perhaps a kangaroo is a rival?). It is set in a beautiful area and I first spied it from a boat by taking a tour from another part of the waterfront – I recommend that. I noticed that a lot of people actually walk high up on the bridge arches – I leave that up to you! Nicknamed “The Coat-hanger” for its shape, it is a very multi-purpose bridge, carrying rail, motor-vehicle (six main lanes and a couple of former tram tracks) and bicycle traffic, and pedestrians between Sydney’s North Shore and the Central Business District. Opened on 19 March, 1932 as the then world’s widest long span bridge (since overtaken,) it remains the tallest steel arch bridge. Again, it is surely impossible to visit Sydney without going to gaze up at this bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Photo: Sydney Harbour Bridge by Brett Von Holdt

Interested in seeing some of these icons up close and personal? Consider one of CAPA’s Global Cities programs and you can. Do you have a favorite bridge? Tell us about it in comments.

Topics: Global Cities