Alcantara’s Roman bridge, “which will last as long as world lasts”

puente de alcántara

 

Foto y texto: Antonio Colmenar.

 

Between Spain and Portugal, at the foot of the Tajo River, stands one of the most important Roman bridges that are currently in the world and one of the most important engineering works of Roman Hispania.

 

The Roman bridge of Alcántara was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD by the Roman architect Cayo Iulio Lacer to save the course of the river and the name it has today has its origin in the name that the Arabs gave it: al-Qantarat, that precisely meant ‘the Bridge’, giving an idea of ​​the admiration that they expressed before the work erected many centuries ago.

 

The bridge was raised with the objective of facilitating communication between Norba (the current Cáceres) and Conimbriga (the Portuguese town of Condeixa-a-Velha). It has a length of 214 meters on the Tajo, it is supported on five pillars of different heights that adapt to the terrain and the two central arches have a width of almost 30 meters and the height also impressive of 48 meters in its central arches.

 

At first glance it looks like a disproportionate bridge for the normal flow, but its design is no caprice. It has the necessary dimensions to allow the passage of a large flow of water during floods of the Tajo. In the center of the bridge, on the central pillar, stands an Arc de Triomphe 13 meters high. Although it has been modified several times throughout history, it retains some inscriptions, such as the date of construction and a dedication to Emperor Trajan.

 

The total height of the bridge is 57 meters, not counting the upper arch. The roadway has a width of about 8 meters and at present the bridge is still open to traffic. The first and second arc (the ones closest to the city of Alcántara) have been destroyed several times as a defensive resource to avoid the passage of the attacking troops: at the beginning of the 13th century, during the Reconquest, in the middle of the century XVII in the War of Restoration between Portugal and Spain, and early nineteenth century during the Peninsular War.

 

The last major reconstruction took place in the mid-nineteenth century, during the reign of Isabel II. And later, in 1969, when the works of the Alcántara reservoir left the Tajo channel temporarily dry at the height of the bridge, the foundations of the central pillars were consolidated. At one end of the bridge there is a Roman temple on whose lintel an inscription can be read with the name of the architect, Cayo Julio Lacer, and the legend “that will last as long as the world lasts”.

 

 

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