Bridges

Over the centuries bridges have spanned borders, enabled communication between cultures and brought people together.

Do you remember the film, 'Les Amants du Pont-Neuf' (Lovers on the Bridge)? A passionate love story about two young people from different social classes, it was adapted for the silver screen years ago in a lyrical rendition. The story took place on the bridges that span the Seine in Paris. One scene in particular made a tremendous impact on me: as the lovers are madly running hand in hand, every bridge they cross is illuminated behind them by fireworks. Creating a visual feast, these images took their place among the unforgettable moments of cinematic history.


Joining lives, cultures, roads, even lovers, bridges are not the province only of films of course. Rather they form the subject of love poems, yearning folksongs and social novels, in short of every aspect of life itself. Over the centuries they have ensured the continuity of roads spanning borders, communication between cultures and the reuniting of people separated in space and time. Strategically they are so crucial that, as in the example of Mostar, they have even been the first targets attacked and defended in war.


It is not known when bridges first appeared in the history of mankind. What is certain of course is that it was a case of necessity being the mother of invention. Given the dictionary definition of a bridge as 'a structure that joins together the two sides of a difficult to cross barrier such as a river or a valley', bridges must have been used from the earliest periods of human history. Taking the form of tree trunks or, in tropical zones, of thick natural fibers in the earliest times, in later periods they emerge as stone structures. Again the historical sources tell us that bridges originally spread across the world from China. The first arched bridges meanwhile are encountered in Egypt and Mesopotamia. Assuming even more importance with the development of the silk and spice roads, bridges began to be built of stone during the period of the Roman Empire. The existence of disparate topographies has always made bridges a vital necessity. 


Go where you will in Anatolia and you will encounter bridges of every shape and form. Defying the years, they carry everything from villagers transporting hay on muleback and exuberant wedding processions to passenger trains crammed with suitcases and buses carrying long lost lovers to one another's arms. Taking names such as Malabadi in Diyarbakır, Cendere in Adıyaman, Misis in Adana, Taşköprü at Kastamonu, Cılandıras at Uşak, Uzunköprü in Edirne, Mıhlı in Edremit, and Mikron at Rize, they inspire awe in those who cross over them, some for their elegant architecture, others for their sheer height. And despite time's depredations they continue patiently to bind past to future, today to tomorrow.


It is imperative that we discuss arched bridges separately for their aesthetically pleasing shapes which span canyons and rushing streams like a taut bow. The key factor keeping these graceful structures aloft is, appropriately, the so-called keystone. Due to its geography, arched bridges in Turkey are found mostly in the Black Sea region where they provide dozens of links over rivers and streams. The valleys of the rushing and otherwise impassable Fırtına and Yağlıdere rivers are the main area for arched bridges, some of which enjoy retirement now alongside the new-built bridges. But perhaps the most famous of all arched bridges is the Mostar bridge in Bosnia Herzegovina. The young men who for centuries used to throw themselves from its twenty-meter height to prove their love for their sweethearts were forced to suspend this tradition in recent years when a war destroyed this lovely structure in 1993 and the Mostar bridge was buried forever under the waters of the Neretva. Its name synonymous with the word 'bridge', the Mostar has now been rebuilt by an international consortium in keeping with the original. But the young men today only leap into the water to earn tips from tourists.


As technology advanced, bridges naturally were rebuilt, and modern suspension bridges of concrete and iron-steel construction are gradually replacing the older ones, spanning treacherous passes and viaducts one by one and shortening routes. The 343-meter Millau built in France holds the proud title of being the world's highest bridge. Other famous bridges include England's Humber (1410 m), New York's Verrazano (1298 m), San Francisco's Golden Gate (1280 m), and Japan's Miami Bisanseto (1100 m).  The first such bridge in Turkey is the small bridge that joins the island of Cunda to Ayvalık on the Aegean coast. The bridge over the Kızılırmak at Nevşehir meanwhile has the distinction of being the country's first suspension toll bridge. Later the Bosporus Bridge (1074 m) and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (1090 m), which grace the Istanbul Bosporus like a necklace were built on a colossal budget. When it first opened the Bosporus Bridge was also accessible to pedestrians, who could therefore stroll from one continent to the other under the open sky. Unfortunately however both bridges linking the European and Asian continents are closed to pedestrians today. 


Bridges may involve certain risks in regions with cold climates. It is common knowledge that bridges and viaducts freeze over before  highways thereby creating perils for vehicles. A large portion of the bridges built in North America are covered bridges for this reason. Closed on all four sides and open only at the two ends, the longest such bridge is the 391-meter-long Hartland Bridge in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Covered bridges are rarely encountered in Turkey where the covered Kiremitli or 'Tiled' Bridge on the Trabzon-Çaykara road and a few country bridges in Çankırı-Bayramören can be cited as examples in this style.


The 16th century architect, Mimar Sinan, creator of world-famous architectural masterpieces in Ottoman Turkey, put his signature on a number of bridges in addition to his many mosques and madrasas. The Silivri, Kapıağası, Odabaşı, Vezirazam Mehmet Paşa and Mustafa Paşa bridges and the 638 meter-long, 11-arch bridge over Büyük Çekmece Lake at Istanbul, which is open only to pedestrians today, are among this master builder's most prominent works, in which he immortalized his name by giving form to stone.  Another important point that must be made in connection with Mimar Sinan is that this master builder was also the first person to check the soundness of the old bridges in Anatolia by actually walking over them.


Entering into every aspect our of lives, bridges have even made their way into Turkish proverbs and idioms. We speak, for example, of 'building a bridge from past to future', or of 'burning our bridges' when a relationship ends. We say, 'a lot of water under the bridge' to indicate that everything has changed, and 'holding the bridgehead' to characterize a strategic position. The spoken word like the written word is a bridge between us and others.


For centuries bridges have brought people to each other with their stories, their aesthetically pleasing shapes and their arched structures that grace river valleys like a necklace. The adrenaline-spiked squeals of rafting buffs resound on the Antalya-Olukköprü in Turkey's southern province, and the stunning view from its heights will mesmerize first-time crossers of the Bosporus Bridge every time. Amsterdam and Bruges will be remembered as 'cities of bridges' forever. The İnceköprü at Çine and the Akköprü at Dalaman on the other hand will soon be submerged under dam waters. And in Eastern Anatolia flood waters occasionally destroy bridges, forcing children to trudge long distances in the snow to get to school. 


But just as life's flow will continue forever and never stop, so will bridges continue to join opposite banks.