El Marco Bridge./ Photo: CorreiaPM, Wikimedia commons
Eduardo González. 25/03/2016
The eastern bank of the small stream of Abrilongo washes the lands of El Marco, a small district of the municipality of La Codosera, in the province of Badajoz, and the western, those of Várzea Grande, in the Portuguese council of Arronches. The mission to save the river and guarantee communication between both sides corresponds to, none other than, the world’s smallest international bridge.
El Marco Bridge is barely 3.20 metres long by 1.45 metres wide, but it is a luxury on its own. Before 2008, they used “an improvised bridge of planks”, which was built by the neighbours and dragged under water when it rained too much, as the president of the Council of the Parish Esperança, Diamantino Ribeiro, told the radio station Rádio Portalegre.
In the nineties, they installed some metal platens and a handrail, on one of its sides, to make passage safer. In 2008, the Municipal Chamber of Arronches decided to build the current bridge, using funds of the European Union, which is more modern, solid and (although officially pedestrian) with capacity to resist the passage of motorcycles. In conclusion, a decent international passage.
In its old times, before the entry of both countries into the EU, the passage of El Marco had been the scene of “retail” smuggling”, while the Civil Guard and the Fiscal Guard (the guardinhas) turned a blind eye in their respective jurisdictions.
Smuggling and tourist selling, tolerated by the authorities, collapsed with Schengen and the EU
As expert Diego González tells on his blog Fronteras, there were traders on both sides of the line (which at some point gathered more than 250 inhabitants). They sold coffee or towels, on the Portuguese side, or Duralex wares, knives or wine, on the Spanish one. Their clients were tourists from both sides of the border that crossed the bridge to buy bargains from the neighbouring country.
Milestones of Spain and Portugal./Photo: www.historiadelacodosera.es
Those resources allowed the inhabitants of a socially and economically impoverished region to move forward. However, the “snip” started to collapse in 1994, when the Schengen treaty came into force, which abolished domestic customs of the European Union, and received the final straw with the euro, in 2002.
Those who have not changed are the traditional ties between both sides of the International Bridge El Marco, located at a region rich in chestnut trees, olive trees, holm oaks and cork trees, and whose inhabitants understand each other perfectly by using portuñol.