AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 ICONIC ITEMS - THE TAGUS RIVER BRIDGE
Although the Tagus River or 25 de Abril Bridge is no longer one of the world’s true leviathans when compared to more modern engineering feats it is, never-the-less, a truly iconic structure that will be amongst your abiding memories of a cruise to Lisbon. Indeed, the approach by cruise ship into the heart of Lisbon is one of cruising’s grand arrivals and few capital cities can compete with the spectacle afforded by a transit along the Tagus to Lisbon.
Aside from sailing under and docking close to the magnificent Tagus River Bridge, you’ll also cruise right past the Belem Tower, one of Lisbon’s original medieval fortifications and the very spot where many explorers set sail to what to them was, indeed, a new world. Slightly further along the Tagus you’ll glide past the statue that commemorates one of Europe’s greatest sailors and explorers, Henry the Navigator.
The Tagus River Bridge: The Names And The Numbers
A bridge across the Tagus had been mooted for years and, fittingly enough given the project’s slow gestation, the American consortium that became the eventual winners of the tender in 1960, had submitted their first proposal back in 1935! The project went ahead and what was then known as the Ponte Salazar was opened on 6th August 1966. The Ponte 25 de Abril came into being in 1974 when Salazar’s dictatorship was toppled and the bridge was renamed to commemorate the revolution. Unlike Salazar’s regime the bridge continued to flourish and now handles 150,000 cars a day along its six lanes (there were originally only four) and also incorporates two railway lines.
Some 3,000 people worked on the site and it took over 2 million hours of work to complete. Sadly four workers lost their lives during the construction of the massive suspension bridge that is almost 2.3km long. The bridge sits 70m above the Tagus and there’s enough steel cable incorporated in the bridge’s structure to comfortably encircle the globe.
What Lies Beneath
The Ponte 25 de Abril spans the Tagus, the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. It begins in the high sierra of eastern Spain and flows, broadly westward, to the Atlantic. The name comes from the latin taliāre meaning to cut through. And cut through it most certainly does, for 1,000 km from the mountains east of Madrid all the way to Lisbon. Depending on where you are along its flow it is referred to either as Tajo, in Spanish, or Tejo in Portuguese.
Suspended In Time
Although it was conceived some 60-odd years ago, the Tagus River Bridge is a relatively modern take on the suspension bridge. Suspension bridges, at least as we conceive of them today, started to appear in the early 19th century – the Menai Bridge, linking Anglesey and mainland Wales was completed in 1826 and is a good period example.
However, even the bridges like the incredible Akashi Kaikyō Bridge that links the Japanese mainland to Awaji Island, owe a debt to the Tibetan siddha and bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo who invented the technique of using iron chains to suspend the deck in some of the earliest suspension bridges dating back some 600 years. It’s amazing to think that the last of Gyalpo’s bridges was only relatively recently - 2004 – claimed by flood water.
A Bridge Too Far? Not A Bit Of It!
There may be a similar suspension bridge – it’s the same colour, after all! - in the city of San Francisco that you might well see on a world cruise but, if you’re cruising from Southampton and want to see a fabulous bridge spanning one of the world’s great rivers that ushers you on into a wonderful European capital, then the Tagus River Bridge is exactly that iconic structure.