Bridges … a connector for people, traffic, neighbourhoods. They are often architecturally challenging, visually striking, or enshrouded by urban legend. (Sometimes they combine all three.) Take the Ponte Luís I in Porto, Portugal, for example. It was initially designed by the French civil engineer responsible for the Eiffel Tower. However, Gustave Eiffel disagreed with the design ideas of his accomplice (and student) Théophile Seyrig, a German architect, and he walked away from the project. Controversy followed the bridge. First named Dom Luís I, the king never pitched up for the inauguration, so the sign of respect, the “Dom” bit, got dropped. Legend recounts that he resented his royal duties so much he generally neglected to carry them out effectively. The bridge has, variously, been opened to electric trams, trolley buses, metro trams and pedestrian traffic.

Bilbao, in northern Spain, has its own controversial bridge, the Zubizuri (meaning “White” in the Basque language). Designed by respected Spanish architect and structural engineer Santiago Calatrava, it has a total of 39 steel cables and a glass walkway allowing pedestrians to view the water below. But it rains a lot in Bilbao. The slippery surface was a disaster, so today there are nonslip mats. The design has been said to resemble a sailboat gliding 10 metres above the river. Alternatively, the white curves and stays resemble a fish skeleton, mimicking a (bony) fish leaping across the water.

Coimbra, Portugal, has its Inês and Pedro footbridge, featuring coloured panels that symbolise skipping stones, in flat angular shapes, skidding this way and that across the surface of the water. Consisting of two cantilevered walkways that join at a central viewing platform over the Mondego River, they do so in such a manner that the two halves are displaced, as if the bridge doesn’t quite meet at the centre.

A tragic love story is embodied in the bridge’s name. During the 14th century Pedro, Portugal’s crown Prince, was married to Queen Constance of Castile, but he fell in love with her lady-in-waiting, Inês de Castro. This illicit union produced four children. King Afonso IV, determined to end the liaison, enlisted the help of three assassins. Inês was murdered in 1355. And so, just as the bridge’s two halves sidestep one another, the lovers’ union was fated not to endure.

Perhaps in these turbulent times of a world pandemic crisis and global political instability, bridges might also offer us a message … to bridge the gaps that exist between ourselves, to be gentler, kinder, and more accepting of others’ opinions even if they don’t match our own.

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