One of the world’s highest single-support bridges
Where: The top of the 500-million-year-old Mount Mat Cincang, Langkawi, Malaysia.
Stats: 2,000 feet above sea level; 410 feet long; curved; less than six feet wide.
Awe Factors: This curved half-moon-shaped pedestrian bridge, set among the clouds, grants non-acrophobic adventurers 360 degree views of the Langkawi islands and the Andaman Sea. Built for tourists and opened in 2005, the bridge is accessed by a 15-minute ride in an electronic cable car, which leaves from the Oriental Village mall complex.
Hangzhou Bay Bridge
The longest ocean-crossing bridge in the world
Where: Hangzhou Bay on the East China Sea, traversing the Qiantang River at the Yangtze River Delta.
Stats: 22 miles long.
Awe Factors: With waves that reach 25 feet high and crash on the shore at 19 miles per hour, the rough waters of Hangzhou Bay had to be studied for nearly a decade before plans were drawn. Construction itself took nearly five years. Now that this S-shaped, stayed-cable bridge is complete (it opened to the public in May 2008), commuters from Shanghai to Ningbo save two hours and will soon have a service area on the bridge to refuel, grab a bite, or even get a night’s sleep if needed.
Designed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502 and constructed by Vebjørn Sand in 2001
Where: This pedestrian and bike arch bridge is in Akershus, Norway, but da Vinci had planned for the bridge (to be named the Golden Horn Bridge) to span the waterway dividing western Constantinople for Sultan Bajazet II.
Stats: A scaled-down version of the design da Vinci had proposed, Sand’s bridge is 360 feet long and 19 feet above the ground. (The original was intended to be much bigger: 1,080 feet long and 120 feet above sea level).
Awe Factors: The bridge is considered by da Vinci scholars to be the first civil engineering project in history based on a da Vinci design, but if it weren’t for Norwegian artist Vebjørn Sand’s keen eye, the small drawing in the corner of one of da Vinci’s notebooks might have remained just an idea. Instead, Sand proposed to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration that it help “reimagine” this mathematically and structurally gorgeous design. Today, the smaller-scale timber structure (da Vinci had wanted stone) near Oslo is, Sand hopes, the first of many Leonardo bridges around the world. Already the artist has created two versions of the design, crafted out of ice—one in Antarctica and the other at the United Nations in Manhattan. Sand and his team are working on creating similar bridges in Odessa, Texas; Karuizawa, Japan; and Istanbul, Turkey, where it was originally intended to be built.
The Bosphorus Bridge
A suspension bridge linking two continents
Where: Istanbul, Turkey, spanning the Bosphorus Strait.
Stats: 4,954 feet long; 210 feet above sea level.
Awe Factors: Completed in 1973, this suspension bridge, the only bridge in the world linking two continents (Europe and Asia), has been in the works since 490 B.C., when the bridge was made of a fleet of boats. Talks of a suspension bridge began in 1900, and again in 1931 by Nuri Demirag, the architect who manufactured the first plane in Turkey; it was finally commissioned in 1967 and completed six years later. A tennis match played on the bridge in May 2005 between Venus Williams and Turkish grand slammer Ïpek Senoglu was the first-ever competition to take place between two continents.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge
The world’s first bridge to use a tilting mechanism to open, forming a gateway for ships to pass
Where: On the South Bank of England’s River Tyne, between Gateshead and Newcastle.
Stats: 413 feet wide; 164 tall when open.
Awe Factors: Powered by eight electric motors with more horsepower than a Lamborghini Diablo, this curved pedestrian and bike bridge turns on pivots and rises 164 feet above the water when ships need to pass. It’s become such a sensation, though, that the bridge—whose motion is likened to the opening and closing of a gigantic eye—puts on a show at least once a day at noon. Completed in 2001 after a design contest was held to add to the impressive lineup of artistic arches on the Tyne, the finalized bridge was carried down the river by one of the largest floating cranes (a 10,560-ton barge taller than the Big Ben) in Europe. The bridge has its own litter clean-up system: each time the bridge opens, garbage rolls into special traps, so that the garbage does not fall into the river.
Royal Gorge Bridge
The world’s highest suspension bridge
Where: Royal Gorge, Colorado, over the Arkansas River.
Stats: 1,053 feet over the gorge; 1,260 feet long.
Awe Factors: Built in 1929 in six months by mainly inexperienced men, this bridge was an impressive feat of construction for its time. Wires were connected at the bottom of the gorge and pulled up the granite canyon despite gusty winds. In 1982, the bridge underwent a refurbishment, and wind cables were added. If looking straight down 1,000 feet isn’t scary enough, “the bridge rolls like waves,” said Peggy Gair, public relations manager for the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. “It bends and sways a little—and it should. The flexibility is its strength.”
The tallest vehicular bridge in the world
Where: Crossing the Tarn Valley in the Massif Central, near Millau in southern France.
Stats: 8,100 feet (less than two miles) long; cars travel 885 feet above sea level, but the highest point on the bridge is 1,125 feet.
Awe Factors: Opened in 2004, the bridge was designed, according to its architect Norman Foster, to have the “delicacy of a butterfly.” Seven triangular piers support this 79,366-pound steel bridge that rises above the clouds. Reaching a height just above that of the Eiffel Tower, this is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world. The bridge is best viewed from outside the car—at a designated viewing point at exit 45 off highway A75, and a 30-minute walk uphill.
Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs)
The most dramatic bridge in the world
Where: Rio di Palazzo, Venice, steps from Piazza San Marco.
Stats: Built in the early 1600s in the Baroque style, the bridge connects the Doge’s Palace to what was once a prison.
Awe Factors: According to legend, those who crossed this 17th-century white limestone bridge had a dramatic passage because they would cross it only once. Built between a prison and the room of the inquisitors inside the Doge’s Palace, the bridge’s stone-barred windows were said to provide the last view the criminals would ever see. But in reality, the prison was for petty criminals and no executions awaited them. The name “Bridge of Sighs” came from a Lord Byron poem. Today, the bridge is the setting for another legend inspired by the poet: if a couple kisses underneath the bridge at sunset, they will be granted eternal love.
One of the world’s great “multifunctional” bridges
Where: Isfahan, Iran, on the Zayandeh River.
Stats: 344 feet long; 45 feet wide; 23 arches.
Awe Factors: Besides its stunning stone foundation, brightly colored tile work on its exterior, and original 17th-century paintings on its interior, this bridge is noteworthy because it serves three functions—as a passageway, a weir, and a recreation place. The bilevel structure, originally built as a dam in 1650, houses a covered indoor area upstairs where people gather to drink tea and socialize in the cool shade. And the echoing acoustics inside make it a popular spot for local singers and folk musicians, who gather there to perform on Friday nights.
One of the most elegant bridges in the world
Where: Seville, Spain, crossing the Guadalquivir River.
Stats: 820 feet long; 465 feet high.
Awe Factors: Built in 1992 by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and said to resemble a harp, the bridge is the first design of its kind: its central mast leans at a 58 degree angle, making it appear as if it’s balancing. Calatrava is fast becoming one of the major innovators in bridge design (other works include the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Tenerife Opera House), renowned for his elegant, clean style and skeletal, almost “unfinished” designs.