To take a stroll across one of Europe’s many historic bridges is to take a tour through centuries of history, conflict, tragedy and redevelopment.
Across the continent, bridges built by the Romans, the Ottomans, the Victorians and countless others have been meticulously preserved in all of their glory.
The Roman Cordoba bridge in Spain, for example, still boasts arches from the 1st century BC. The High Bridge of Lincoln, England, on the other hand, is a 12th-century crossing still replete with medieval timber-framed buildings across its length.
Here are 10 of the most beautiful historic bridges in Europe.
The Ponte Vecchio (literally ‘Old Bridge’) is one of Florence’s most famous tourist attractions and the oldest bridge in the city. The first bridge constructed on the site was built in Roman times, though the current bridge dates from 1345. The Ponte Vecchio has always housed shops and merchants, most notably jewellery shops.
The Ponte Vecchio remains a focal point in Florence, and attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is still home to glittering jewellers and metal-wear shops, and is often heaving with people.
Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) is an iconic bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, that crosses the river Vltava. Construction of Charles Bridge began in 1357 to replace the Judita Bridge which had been damaged by a flood in 1342. When it was completed at the beginning of the 15th century, Charles Bridge, then known as ‘Stone Bridge’ was the only means of crossing the river.
A 516 meter-long gothic bridge is made of Bohemian sandstone, with sixteen arches and three towers, the Charles Bridge is well worth a visit. It’s now a vibrant tourist attraction, with painters, traders and kiosks sprawled across it. The bridge also offers enchanting views of the city.
High Bridge in Lincoln, England, is a medieval bridge that carries the High Street across the River Witham. It was originally built in 1160 AD with a bridge chapel on the side, dedicated to the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. The bridge saw the addition of its characteristic timber-framed shops from around 1550.
Today, High Bridge is the oldest bridge in the United Kingdom still to have buildings on it, and having stood since the 12th century, is a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument. The shop fronts are now occupied by a cafe and a traditional English bakery.
This Ottoman-era bridge crosses the Drina River in the city of Višegrad, in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Built between 1571 and 1577, under the orders of Grand Vizier Mehmed Pasha Sokolović, the crossing is 179.5 metres long. It was designed by the famed Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan.
Today, the bridge is every bit of beautiful, featuring 11 masonry arches, which span between 11 and 15 metres wide. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also a site of mourning, as it witnessed acts of mass murder during the Bosnian War.
Built by the Romans in the 1st century BC, the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, Spain, “surpasses all other bridges in beauty and solidity”, according to Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi in 1140. Straddleing the 657 kilometre Guadalquivir River, the bridge has 16 arches supported by irregular semi-cylindrical buttresses and is 247 metres long by approximately 9 metres wide.
Today, while only the 14th and 15th arches from the northern end are from the original Roman bridge, the crossing still forms an unmissable part of Cordoba’s ancient centre. In the TV series Game of Thrones, the Roman Bridge of Cordoba doubled as ‘The Long Bridge of Volantis’ spanning the mouth of the Rhoyne River.
Ponte Rotto, originally known as Pons Aemilius, is Rome’s oldest, albeit defunct, stone bridge. Built in the 2nd century BC to replace its wooden predecessor, Ponte Rotto, meaning the ‘broken bridge’, is indeed missing most of its original structure. Floods damaged the bridge many times, including in 1230 AD, after which Pope Gregory XI repaired it, and on Christmas Eve 1598, which carried away the eastern half of the bridge and rendered the bridge unusable.
Despite not functioning, Ponte Rotto enjoys cult status amongst visitors to Rome, including William Turner, who, in 1819, left behind a series of sketches of the bridge after his visit to Rome. Still, walking tours and Italians alike pass the Ponte Rotto every day, marvelling at the lone arch which is now just an echo of the bridge’s former majesty.
Mostar Bridge, also known as the Stari Most (‘Old Bridge’), is a reconstructed 16th-century Ottoman bridge in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bridge, which has symbolic significance in Mostar, was deliberately destroyed on 9 November 1993, during the Bosnian War, by Croat military forces. 60 shells may have struck the bridge before it collapsed.
Mostar Bridge was reconstructed after the war following the establishment of a committee of experts by UNESCO in 1998. It remains a popular tourist destination in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the location of cliff diving competitions and a local diving tradition.
Pont Neuf in Paris is the oldest bridge in the city, dating back to the 16th century. In 1577 King Henri III decreed that a new bridge should be built over the Seine and appointed a committee to ensure the project’s steady progress. The following year, the first stone was laid by the king himself, in the presence of the queen mother, Catherine de Medicis and the queen consort, Louise de Lorraine.
As one of Paris’s most popular destinations, Pont Neuf is often included on small-group walking tours of the city center and highlights along the Seine. Themed tours – including music, photography, history and architecture tours – often include a walk across Pont Neuf.
Puente de Alcantara (Alcantara Bridge) in Spain is an impressive stone arch structure crossing the Tajo River and acting as the entrance to Alcantara. Puente de Alcantara was originally built by the Romans, but much of it has since been the subject of reconstruction. In the middle ages, Puente de Alcantara was a checking point for merchants and visitors and included a fortified entranceway.
Today, the east side of the Puente de Alcantara retains the 10th-century Gate of Alcantara, a gate of Arabic origin, with major contributions from the Christian period. The entire bridge rests on two arches, the largest being the central arch, under which the Tagus River freely flows. It was declared a national and cultural monument in 1921.
Tower Bridge is an iconic 19th-century bridge over the River Thames in London. The impetus to build Tower Bridge began gaining momentum in 1876, though its location meant that it could not be built in a traditional style as it had to allow access to ships to the port of London (which in the Victorian era was the busiest port in the world). It opened on 30 June 1894, then the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed.
Tower Bridge is still very much in use – over 40,000 people cross Tower Bridge each day, and it opens to allow tall ships to pass through an average of twice a day – roughly between 700-1,000 times each year. Tower Bridge offers a wonderful exhibition on its structure and engineering, including a high glass floor walkway between the two towers. It can even be hired for private functions.