ABOVE: Painting by Liu Gua of the crossing of the Luding Bridge, China ABOVE RIGHT: Bailey bridge built on the piers of the Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence, Italy, after it had been destroyed in 1944
10 BRIDGES SPANNING THE WORLD
Baroque statues of saints began to be placed on the balustrade, following the example of the fi gures on the Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome and echoing the emblematic figures of dogs and lions on Chinese bridges.
There are a number of medieval bridges in Europe known as Devil’s bridges. In one version of a popular legend the Devil demands the soul of the fi rst person to cross the bridge in return for helping to build or complete it and is outwitted by the builders. According to ancient Chinese lore, every year on the night of the seventh day of the seventh moon the daughter of the Lord of Heaven, the silk spinning maiden, visits her beloved herd boy. She traverses the River of Heaven, the Milky Way, on a bridge formed by all the crows of the world. If it rains on that day it is a bad omen for the silk trade because the little maiden cannot pass.
Bridges have played a key role in war. The Persian emperor Xerxes constructed elaborate pontoon bridges across the Hellespont in 480 BC to attack the Greeks. These were formed by lashing boats together, 360 for a northerly bridge and 314 for a southerly one according to the historian Herodotus. Bridges have been the setting for famous battles, for instance the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber in AD 312 between the emperors Constantine and Maxentius; the latter drowned in the fi erce fi ghting. In modern times the Red Army’s Long March, including the seizure of the Luding suspension bridge in 1935, has generated some of the most powerful of all propaganda posters. In the Cold War the Potsdam Bridge between East Germany and West Berlin was the scene of hostage and prisoner exchanges.
Large numbers of fi ne and important bridges were destroyed in World Wars I and II, both by retreating armies intent on frustrating the enemy advance and by bombing raids intended to destroy infrastructure. In the summer of 1944 the River Arno, running through the heart of Florence, formed the German defence line. General Kesselring ordered the destruction of all the bridges across the river but was persuaded to spare the famous Ponte Vecchio. To ensure this was completely