Medieval bridges leading into towns also served as fortifications. The location of many of these bridges can be known by tracing the funds required to build and maintain them, which were generally put up by boroughs (via taxes), wealthy lords or the church. It was not uncommon to find a chapel built on a bridge or on the bank at either end; before Georgian times in England, one could see shops crowded along bridges, especially in larger cities, such as York, Bristol, and London.
The history of bridge building in the world has always been characterized by the quest for better design and strength. The oldest surviving bridge, on the road between Epidavros and Nafplio in Greece, has stood for well over three thousand years. It is, of course, built of stone, a material that, along with iron and steel, has ensured the longevity of many bridges since. Roads in Britain still follow much of the map established by the Roman Empire, but their bridges were mainly constructed of timber and have long since disappeared, as ephemeral as the rivers that flowed beneath them.
Any old bridge will generally tell a story about our past.
Photo credit: Joan Carroll
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