5 Beautiful Bridges

From Iran's Khaju to Paris's Pont Neuf

By / April 2016

What is it about bridges that evokes such wonder? Is it the architecture, that dynamic combination of grace and heft? Or is it a latent fear that excites? After all, sometimes a bridge is all that keeps us from plummeting into deep waters. Or maybe it’s the symbolism, for what is a bridge but a means of connection, of spanning a distance between too severed parts? For their beauty, these five bridges, well-known and obscure, caught our fancy.


1. Golden Gate Bridge

Photograph by Tom Hilton

Cars first motored across California’s bright orange Golden Gate Bridge in 1937. Nearly 80 years later, the bridge continues to see vehicles safely across the bay, as well as hold spectators enthralled. Some of the Golden Gate’s mystique owes to its sheer length (8,981 feet) and height (746 feet above water). But some of it is that je ne sais quoi factor: the telltale San Francisco bay fog licking at the lean limbs of the giant bridge and the rocky coastline cutting a stark contrast against the sleek waters. And although it’s a major thoroughfare (the bridge is the only northern road exit in San Fran) there is a pathway designated for pedestrians and bikers.


2. Tower Bridge Exhibition

Photograph by Siddhu

One, if not the, most iconic landmark in London is Tower Bridge. Spanning the River Thames, Tower Bridge opened at the turn of the 20th century in a sort of faux medieval style to match the nearby Tower of London. Tower Bridge has two stately 213-foot towers and is outfitted with bascules that can be raised to allow ships to pass through. When the bridge first opened, it was panned by critics. Now it exists as an inextricable piece of the glittering London skyline. In opposition to popular thought, the song “London Bridge is Falling Down” does not refer to this stalwart construction but rather to the eponymous London Bridge which, in the past, did indeed have a tendency to falter.


3. Sydney Harbour Bridge

Photograph by Christophe Robert Herv

One of the world’s longest steel arch bridges reaches 3,772 feet across the shimmering waters of Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately nicknamed “the coat hanger” for its arched design, makes room for eight lanes of traffic, two rail lines, and a pedestrian walkway. One of the newest bridges on this list, the Sydney Harbour Bridge debuted in 1932. Its unveiling was very dramatic affair. Just as the premier of New South Wales was about to cut the ribbon, a man in military dress rode up on horseback and slashed the ribbon with a sword, declaring his act in the name of the people. The outlaw was apprehended quickly, the ribbon retied, and promptly snipped by the premier.


4. Pont Neuf

Photograph by Gregory Tonon

Although Pont Neuf means “new bridge,” it is in reality the oldest stone bridge in Paris. After about 30 years of start-stop construction, Pont Neuf was finally completed in the early 1600s. The bridge’s series of 12 arches, decorated with a host of gargoyles (reportedly the faces of pickpockets and petty thieves), meet at the Ile de la Cite in a charming confluence of stone, trees, and water. And yet, in former days, the bridge snaked right through the Parisian underbelly. Men fought duels on it in the 1600s and gangs of robbers hid on it and jumped unsuspecting persons in the 1800s. But today’s Pont Neuf is swept clear of crime and is a must-see on any stroll along the Seine. It was prominently featured in Woody Allen’s whimsical 2011 film “Midnight in Paris.” An especially nice way to view Pont Neuf is at night by boat.


5. Khaju Bridge

Photograph by Julia Maudlin

Comprised of 23 stone arches, the Khaju Bridge in Isfahan, Iran is a very arresting piece of architecture. Dating back to 1650, the structure was both a pedestrian throughway and a destination; at one time the Khaju doubled as a tea house. There are even some stone seats that were specially built so that the shah could enjoy the view of the Zayandeh River. The Khaju Bridge also serves as a dam for Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran. But more than that, with its elegant and enduring Persian design, the Khaju is a work of art.


Emily Halonen Bratcher is a contributing writer at U.S. News and World Report.