La Pont du Diable
I was walking the Camino from Arles to Santiago de Compostela. It had been a tough day, blisteringly hot, lost, cut and scratched after falling in a ditch, I was tired and hungry.
At this exact moment, I suppose I am like most other people, not that interested in bridges. A bridge is a functional bit of architecture, something we use but don’t see, except for the tourist attractions. London Bridge is a boring bridge, famous for falling down and being sold to an American. Tower Bridge is in a billion photographs, but who pays attention to Waterloo or Vauxhall Bridge?
Bridges are metaphors, we build bridges, burn them, cross them when we come to them, they help us over troubled waters. However, real bridges are mostly uninteresting and easily ignored, like an underpass, a set of steps or public toilets.
The Arles route takes you to the St Guilhem le Desert Abbey, and to get there you have to cross the Hérault River. It was at this point I saw a bridge for the first time, I mean really looked at it, studied it, and admired it as a thing of beauty. It was a stop and stare moment. I have no idea why I found it so intriguing, I just did. From the rough cut dressed stonework, the 8 symmetrical arches cut into the main body, to the voussoirs (the stones laid around the edge of the arch), it was as much a work of art as Monets Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies.
Photo: not mine, pinched off the internet
Standing on the new bridge gives me a whole new perspective of the ancient solid stone arch bridge built by Benedictine monks in the 11th century. Seeing this bridge was like looking back to a time when every brick was shaped and laid by hand. The rock base was cut out, by hand. The scaffolding was made of wood and the measurements were by string, stick and eye. And yet, even after a thousand years and a thousand rampaging floods it stands, testimony to the engineering skills of the Romans.
After this bridge epiphany, I had many bridges to cross, and I paid close attention to every one of them.
Since that day I have discovered there are three considerations in building a bridge but I am only interested in the last one.
Efficiency, what’s the least amount of materials which can be used to achieve the maximum strength, durability, and safety.
Economy, .as most bridges are paid for by public funds, there is an economic factor attached to efficiency.
Aesthetics, what is the most visually appealing design possible when the first two considerations are taken into account.
A few more details of La Pont du Diable
A more detailed breakdown of the structure of bridges, for the seriously bored.