China is home to some of the world’s oldest bridges, and also some of its newest. During my visit I crossed bridges spanning a 600-year history. I will call this Part 4.5 of my series on bridges; read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 if you’d like.
Emperors particularly embraced the arch. Just inside the Forbidden City’s Meridian Gate, the palace is approached via five marble arches over the Golden Water River. During imperial times, only the Emperor was allowed to cross the middle bridge. Today, visitors can cross whichever bridge they wish.
The Summer Palace follows suit with the magnificent marble Seventeen-Arch Bridge over Kunming Lake. In fact, walking the footpath around the lake is a delight for bridge geeks. Some are arches, tall and steep or long and low. Others are highly ornamented beam bridges, topped with traditional pavilions – nice spots for fishing. There’s also a more contemporary footbridge nearby. The truss underneath looks pretty flimsy, so I think it’s actually a suspension bridge, supported by the curving cables that double as handrails.
Other modern bridges in Beijing are stylistically all over the map. I enjoyed a pedestrian overpass just south of Tian’anmen Square, decorated to resemble one of the city’s many gates. On a hike outside the city, I crossed a bamboo bridge. It isn’t clear how the bridge spans this stream – I didn’t bother peeking underneath to find hidden beams – but the decking is very regionally appropriate (and very easy to replace).
And what to make of this bridge I spotted from a bus? Is it cable-stayed? The tower resembles one from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York (or possibly a McDonald’s golden arch), but single-tower bridges are very unusual – more of an artistic statement than a useful span. I also wonder what the red Chinese characters say, written across the top. Communist slogan?
Tomorrow I’ll explore the abundant and inspiring modes of transportation Beijingers use to get around.