In the late afternoon, Alice would open the shutters wide and leave them askew until the last light had faded from her room. Not so much to let light in but the breeze. Two regular guests who entered and filled the mostly empty space. She preferred the breeze.
When she first arrived here, it would enter like a loving memory. Slowly dancing around her face and bare arms. A warming embrace. A rare comfort.
Now it enters abruptly – slicing her cheeks and cutting through her clothes. Bringing only a chill. Though she doesn’t mind. Unlike memories, no breeze can be felt twice.
Occasionally, Alice would stand at the ledge and look out at the steady flow of the Arno. The smooth, shimmering centre flowed serenely – allowing her mind to quieten. Inhale.
Before long, her eyes would inevitably be drawn to the rough water where shards of white were thrown abruptly about in sprays, churned by unseen forces. The memory of the stream will carry the memory of the obstacles below – whether or not they are seen from above. Exhale.
Alice turned away from the window. The breeze passed through her long dark hair and out. Free to grow and soar. Not everyone is afforded that luxury. Alice tried to attach her memories to the breeze, hoping a thought would weigh less than the wind.
Six months previously Alice pinned the same hope on a plane ticket. Purchased uncertainly. On credit. She fought against the plan. The ticket sat in a drawer in the second bedroom amongst tiny, unused socks. To rest with the dreams of another life.
When the day came to fly, Alice felt moved to float. To soar.
She retrieved the ticket and allowed loose fingers to brush tenderly against the cotton. Their impression remained on her hand as she closed the drawer and left her life behind.
This was the place where Alice could begin again. Where the river flowed and the breeze would cradle her like a mournful lover.
The warmth of the sun. The bite of the breeze. Each comforting thought was betrayed by a pang of guilt. Each wind sweep would leave her and drift on through the shutters. Leaving her to clutch the pain of loss at her breast.
Her only constant.
The human mind is geared to admire the bridge.
Perhaps it is a remnant in our DNA from a time when crossing an innocuous, or possibly ocuous, stretch of water would necessarily result in the crossee enduring a soaking.
Perhaps it the practical reminder of man’s ability to circumvent obstacles.
Perhaps it is an aesthetic appreciation of beauty.
Whatever the case, bridges have long-held fascination for many – as a muse for inspiration, a tool for control, a centre for commerce or simply for the wonderful, practical structure they are.
Below is list of 13 bridges I’ve been lucky enough to cross – and a couple that have affected and influenced me.
The Rialto – Venice – Italy
Venice – the little nation that could. For a fleeting moment in history, amongst a plethora of significant events, was one of the key centres of the world both economically and culturally.
A nation whose arrogance and influence belied its size, Venice was the melting pot between the East and West. Fiercely Catholic until the Pope’s edicts contradicted their growth, Venetian traders and leaders were always welcome to the goods offered by the exotic near East.
Goods were shifted from the West (France, Florence, Spain etc) to the Venetian ports to move onto the Mediterranean. Traders from the Ottoman Empire wishing to sell their goods would meet at this hub of cosmopolitanism. The result was the establishment of a powerful, rich government and an empire that, at various stages, even controlled Athens herself.
At the heart of the Venetian geography was the literal trading centre of the entire empire. Boats endeavouring to trade would traverse the Grand Canal and meet at its only bridge. The only crossing point between the two halves of the fascinating city and the bubbling point for any merchants worth their salt.
One bridge. One meeting place. The noise, smells and atmosphere would have been immense. The excitement, lust for wealth and jostling for position overwhelming.
The Grand Canal is 3,800 metres long. The Chicago River, in Chicago central alone, has 38 moveable bridges – down from 52.
One bridge? Surely this was by design alone. Indeed, until the 19th century, only one bridge crossed the Grand Canal. For nearly 700 years from 1181 (in its earliest incarnation) until 1854. One bridge. Evidently, governments of the State believed that a centralization of commerce would lead to an over-estimation of its importance. Traders would arrive at a port like no other. There could be no belief that there could be a better trading partner.
With one point of control and movement, the foreigners from east and west would be subjugated to the demands of the local Venetian patriots.
That is, until the discovery of the new lands. As the trading routes to the Americas developed and evolved, the importance of Venice as a trading partner declined along with the status of this captivating bridge.
The Charles Bridge – Prague – Czech Republic
Bridges in Prague take on a whole new practical use of their own that, I can only assume, is largely unique to the Czech Republic.
It seems that crossing a bridge was a secondary function. A bonus, if you will, to the crossing’s primary purpose.
After a week in the Czech Republic, the recurring theme I discovered was that a bridge’s primary function was to use as a platform to throw people off of. Windows, too… but that’s for another post.
The Charles Bridge in the capital is not spared from this diagnosis.
John of Nepomuk was one such soul whose last living touch of ground was the Charles Bridge. An interesting historical character, a tool used for the benefit of the followers of various persuasions, John was the confessor of the Queen of Bohemia. When approached by the Bad Kind Wenceslaus to reveal the Queen’s confession, John refused and was subsequently hurled into the mighty river below.
Legend decries that the bridge’s cornerstone was laid at 5:31 a.m. on July 9th 1357. A dull fact until you arrange the numbers to create the palindromic 1357 9 7 531. Contemporary consensus that this would imbue the bridge with extra strength.
To some degree, perhaps it was correct. The Bridge has endured floods, collapses and wars – much blood, too, was spilt on this crossing. From rebels to the confessor of the queen. Yet it still remains today, the tangible heart of the recently-spawned tourist Mecca.
The bridge shares a similarity with the Rialto Bridge in that, despite Prague being the boiling point of Holy Roman Empire during the 15th century, between the years of 1357 and 1841 it was the only means of crossing the mighty Vltava River – otherwise known as the Elba. Again, the power of the ruling class can be witnessed by this circumstance. The only crossing of the river, near the Old Town, leads directly to the Castle.
Furthermore, the bridge’s status as the one crossing across the mighty river enabled Prague to grow financially as a trading route – cashing in on their status as a central land-route between East and West.
One of the many stories to capture my imagination about this bridge pertains to a painting that resides outside of a house towards the Castle-side of the bridge.
The story goes that in the 14th Century flooding of Prague, much of the area around the Charles bridge was destroyed. Debris covered the terrain yet, amongst the ruin, was a perfectly preserved image of Mary. Believing the image to have been the saviour of many in the area, neighbours deified the portrait and today it lays at the back of the house for all to see – an artifact of strength and a testament to the strength of the Prague people and structures.
The image can be seen here, with the reflection of St Vitus Cathedral also present.
Ponte Vecchio – Florence – Italy
The Old Bridge.
This bridge is as aesthetically beautiful as it is confusing. A romantic icon, a dreamy-eyed representation of the beauty of the soul, the Ponte Vecchio is a truly magnificent sight. Not satisfied with merely being a means for humans to traverse the Arno without getting wet, Florentines built shops on and into the bridge from 1345 until the present day.
Without dispute, Florence was the birth-place of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was, in his author’s opinion, the most electric, creative period of mankind’s history – history-shaping pieces of art that inspire and captivate millions into the current day were born from this “humble” nation.
Arguably, Florence was the birthplace of love. A poetic, gorgeous city whose streets wind and twist like wisps of kisses down a lovers back that each lead to the small of their back. The small of the lovers back is, undoubtedly, the Ponte Vecchio.
This bridge is so romantic it even stars in Puccini’s little gem of a romantic opera, Il Mio Babbino Caro. Evidently, a lass was so keen to marry her beau that, if she couldn’t, the only thing that would satisfy her would be to head to the Ponte Vecchio and hurl herself into the Arno. Maybe she’d visited Prague.
Debatably, Florence was also the birthplace of the modern phenomenon of young lovers placing locks on bridges. For those unfamiliar with the practice, young star-crossed lovers (most likely Twilight fans) obtain a lock, adorn it with their initials and lock it to a bridge. Bridges stand as a testament to time and movement forward throughout eternity. You can never step into the same river twice – but you can stand above one forever.
The bridge’s intrigue does not end there. Upon their retreat from Florence in 1944, the German army bombed all of the bridges in Florence. The reason for this was to disallow crossing for the Allies. Hitler himself, however, expressly ordered the saving of the Ponte Vecchio. Reasoning goes that he believed the bridge unsuitable for heavy armoury and vehicles to cross, therefore it was unnecessary to destroy the bridge. It may be more likely that he was just a closet twilight fan.
I’ve saved one of my favourite stories of the bridge for last.
The Medici family were a colossus in Florentine life. They were what the Tudors were to England, what the Chappells were to cricket, what the Baldwins were to Hollywood. They were it and a bit… and they knew it.
For much of the 16th Century the Medici ruled Florence as Dukes and Popes and other assorted lofty titles. The family held ties with the French and held banks in many of the world’s most cutting-edge locations. They resided in the Pitti Palace (the former home of their nemesis) on the Oltrarno. Oltrarno essentially means ‘the other side of the Arno.’ It was so named because all of Florentine political life occurred on the other side of the Ponte Vecchio.
As such, the Medici were forced daily to walk by the commoners of the Florentine society. The riff raff. The rabble.
Knowing this would not do, Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici ordered Giorgio Vasari to build them a corridor that would snake sneakily throughout the city from the family’s home, behind a church, across the Ponte Vecchio, past the Uffizi gallery and, finally, into the Palazzo della Signoria (the town hall).
Henceforth, the Medici were able to stroll the Vasari Corridor without the hassle of the common man. Genius.
Pont Neuf – Paris – France
Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge across the River Seine. Its first stone was laid in 1578 with its final stone laid to rest in 1607. When in Paris, there’s no need to rush.
This bridge highlights the contrasting features of Parisian society, history and life. Originally, the ideas were to build houses along the bridge. The idea was shelved, thankfully, by Henry IV, who feared it would hinder the view of the Louvre. Aesthetics, in Paris, are a matter of state.
Pont Neuf stands as an explicit reminder that what is will not always be.
Today, Pont Neuf is an easy means of crossing the Seine and, for many, little more. The majority of tourists pass over the bridge on the way to the Louvre with thoughts of bigger and better things to see. intermittently, people may sit back and admire the creation. Strong and sturdy against the flowing river – kindly allowing ships and row-boats to pass below – its pattern of arches complimenting the view from any angle. The view of apartments, trees, balconies, gardens, the Louvre, the Eifel Tower.
Pont Neuf is beautiful – but no more beautiful than much of Paris. Beauty alone is not enough in this city.
However, this bridge has not always been merely a thoroughfare. Distinct from being a means to arrive at a destination, Pont Neuf was the place to go.
In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the bridge enjoyed a rich cultural flavour. Crowds would flock to the bridge to witness street performers of all persuasions plying their trade – from jugglers to acrobats to musicians. Satirical performances would entertain passers-by, theatrically providing social commentary as a key element of the production. Hustlers and healers alike would set up their businesses on the bridge as Parisians and foreigners alike descended on the hot spot. Clowns, performers, students, the elite, the plebs would mingle and enjoy the spectacle, the noise and the flair. The very essence of the extremes of the senses collided at this one point to celebrate humanity. To celebrate life. Of course, prostitutes and pick-pockets were equally prevalent.
Alas, it was not to last. The rise of the Boulevards and their various spectacles led to the decline in significance of Pont Neuf.
Paul Lacroix wrote, as far back as 1840, that the bridge was “once a perpetual fair, at present, it is just a bridge to be crossed without stopping.” Even 170 years ago, the decline of the bridge was being lamented.
The message I take from Pont Neuf is that our history can define us but with each rising sun we move into an evolving future. As this bridge stands into the future it greets each morning with new meaning, new purpose that, whilst less celebrated than its past, is appreciated – if only mildly.
Furthermore, it reminds me of the need to dig deeper. We all may come to places of significance without realising it. As many pass over this bridge without knowing its history, people judge others without an ounce of understanding of their past, their plight or their hopes and dreams. We must always search to find the whole story, to enrich our minds and our lives.
We all grow, we all lose our best years, but we each have much to offer.
Marienbrucke – Bavaria – Germany
People’s general understanding of the purpose of a bridge is that it is a means for someone to get from one side of something to another.
Human wants to get somewhere. Something is in the way. Build a bridge. Get to the somewhere. Practical. Logical. Sensible.
Ludwig II would disagree. If he were sane. And alive.
No – Ludwig didn’t go by the notion that bridges were a means of human transportation. Ludwig decided, instead, to build a bridge designed to look at something. A building. That’s right, men scaled great heights, hanging from scaffolding or swinging on ropes (I don’t know how people build bridges) risking their lives to construct a bridge to look at something.
Apparently people debate whether he was insane. I don’t see their argument.
You’d think that you’d at least name this viewing point after a women. You’d be right.
You’d think, perhaps, that this woman was a pretty little thing that Ludwig was trying to impress and, if he played his cards right, become intimate with. You’d be wrong.
He named the bridge after his mum!
It gets better. Over 130 years later, people flood in their droves to this bridge to stare at this building for a few minutes (or longer) before returning to whence they came. It’s not an easy journey, either. About 20 minutes by foot up a steep hill.
Granted… the view is alright when you get there.
At least, Walt Disney thought so when he used this castle as inspiration for the Snow White/Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Perhaps he wasn’t mad, after all!
Brooklyn Bridge – New York – United States of America
The Bridge that rocked the world.
The Icon bridge in the Icon city – the Brooklyn Bridge (the longest suspension bridge at the time of building) came to be a symbol of opportunity, hope and human ingenuity in the city created to channel human entrepreneurial and monetary dominance. Hollywood is the heartland of the entertainer, New York is Mecca of the businessman.
The bridge serves as a literal platform for people to leave behind the dreariness of real life and enter the thriving hub of Manhattan – the city whose heartbeat can be felt with each step across its vibrant span.
Interestingly, many people over its history have used the Brooklyn Bridge to test their wears. Be it people jumping from it or flying under it, people have flocked to this landmark to either make a name for themselves in various fields or test their faith and longevity by jumping from the edge.
One such man a century ago jumped from the bridge and survived. He was subsequently charged with attempted suicide but later acquitted. I always wondered – if he were to be found guilty, would the charge have been execution?
It is as though they use this crossing as a vehicle to test their worth in this great city. Not satisfied with societal achievements – being a positive family member or helping ones community – many humans have used their power of free will to jump willingly from this bridge.
The message I take from this a reminder of man’s continual need to unnecessarily validate himself by completing unimportant (read: irrelevant) achievements. This phenomenon has reached desperate lengths in the current, digital-age and shows no signs of abating.
Story Bridge – Brisbane – Australia
Brisbane’s pride and joy of the depression era, Story Bridge crosses the Brisbane River at Kangaroo Point.
Australia’s longest cantilever bridge, a public words program during the Great Depression, this bridge’s footings go 40 metres underground and men had to spend 2 hours in decompression to avoid the “bends.”
The story (pardon the pun) from this bridge is purely personal. It goes to the heart of what a bridge is, what it does well, and why we love the hell out of them.
A relative of mine lives in Hawthorne and was hosting a birthday party. As part of our time in Brisbane, we needed to visit New Farm to organise supplies for the evening. As the crow flies, New Farm is barely 500 metres away. As the car drives, it was a 30 minute trip. This is because there is no bridge from Hawthorne to New Farm.
Sometimes you have to marvel at the practicality of a bridge.
Dakrong Bridge – Hue – Vietnam
Practically, this bridge connects two opposing land masses separated by a river.
Figuratively, this bridge symbolises the reunification of a nation and the triumph of individual and communal spirit.
Hotly contested during the Vietnam War, Dakrong Bridge was bombed, destroyed, torn down and rebuilt many times. West of the DMZ, the bridge was located at the beginning of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – an elaborate series of trails that were used to bring supplies to North Vietnamese troops.
1975 signified the end of the “American” War and the reunification of Vietnam – the first independent Vietnam for nearly a century.
To mark their independence the Vietnamese constructed this bridge, located in the previous heart of the resistance.
A metaphoric thumbing of the nose to the rest of the world.
A message that no longer would Vietnam be divided or controlled by foreigners.
A strong, lasting, physical icon for Vietnamese to remind them of a terrifying past and, more importantly, prosperous future.
Many tours will pass by this bridge and stop if nothing other than to observe and remember.
Ponte Sant Angelo – Rome – Italy
Completed in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian, Ponte Sant’Angelo spans the great River Tiber and has existed during amazing periods of Roman history.
Present during the height of the expansive Roman Empire, used as a crossing point for pilgrims venturing to St Peter’s Basilica when Rome once again flexed its muscle 14 centuries later, this bridge provides a stunning opportunity for people to stand and watch.
One may watch as time passes in the Eternal City as the mind wanders to consider the time of giants, of Caesars, Painters, Artists, Popes, monsters, and feel, at once, remorseful and thankful for the time they live in. To have missed something historic. To be able to stand and admire it.
Tower Bridge – London – England
Two factors conspired together for much of my life to hide the true identity of this bridge.
Factor number 1) At a young age, probably about Grade 1, I learnt the song “London Bridge is falling down.” Consequently, I knew of a bridge in London that had endured a difficult event in its past and, thanks to the advice of my teacher, I knew that the bridge has been subsequently rebuilt. I knew there was a bridge called London Bridge.
Factor Number 2) The only London bridge I had ever seen (many, many times at that) was this one:
Consequently, into my late teenage years I believed Tower Bridge to be London Bridge. When…it’s not… I suppose it was funnier in my brain.
Regardless, Tower Bridge is the leading bridge in a triumvirate of bridges that cross the Thames in a short span between Central London and London City.
Tower Bridge gets its name from its connection to the Tower of London, its proximity to Tower Hill and, I presume, the aesthetic towers of the bride itself.
Further along the walk you’ll find London Bridge. Given my awareness of the famous London Bridge, I was surprised by its current modesty, as seen below:
Various incarnations would have been more impressive, adorned with houses/shops/wagons and general hustle and bustle. Indeed, a bridge has stood at this location for over 7 centuries. During the 19th century, however, the bridge was viewed as cumbersome to water traffic and subsequently removed.
The third bridge in the triumvirate is the recently completed Millennium Bridge. As impressive as the bridge appears is its location. To the South lie Shakespeare’s Globe (reincarnation) and Tate Modern, and to the North is London’s famous St Paul’s Cathedral.
Perhaps Tower Bridge would be better off being known as London Bridge owing to its iconic status, but the message I take from it is that sometimes we don’t get the credit for what we deserve – and other times we get too much. We don’t need to worry about this adulation, however, as we can continue to serve our purpose regardless of how we are viewed by others.
Bridge of Sighs – Venice – Italy
It is not surprising that the city that contains a billion bridges should have two bridges (at least) that capture the imagination.
I love the story of this bridge and I have alluded to it in a previous post (which can be found here).
The story goes like this;
Ponte dei Sospiri crosses a Venetian canal, connecting the judicial sector of the Ducal Palace to the dungeons on the other side.
In the antechambers of the palace, the accused would face trial and, once found guilty, would be taken post-haste to prison.
As the prisoner passed over the bridge, he would invariably let out a sigh as this was the final view of Venice he would have. The last opportunity to indulge in the magnificence, beauty and transcendence of “The Serene One.”
Of course, the prisoner wouldn’t simply be despondent at the thought of spending their remaining days rotting in a dark, cramped, mould infested dwelling for the rest of their days.
Nonetheless, the sighs were so audible that, centuries later, they can still be heard with the ringing of St Mark’s bells.
Sydney Harbour Bridge – Sydney – Australia
As Australian as Vegemite and as famous as Crocodile Dundee, Sydney Harbour Bridge is a truly spectacular structure. Australia’s most iconic construction (along with its neighbour, the Sydney Opera House) and one of the world’s most famous bridges, Sydney Harbour Bridge provides a dramatic image of Sydney Harbour. A stunning, captivating and breathtaking visual display of shape, style and substance.
Seen from Manly across the raging bay, the bridge stands strong and majestic by the heart of the city. Witnessed from the Quay, the bridge is colossal and a vehement reminder of our individual place and small stature in modern society.
Seen from ferries, pubs, restaurants, houses and walks around the harbour, it is eye-catching beyond description and a truly beautiful bridge to behold.
Constructed in 1932, the bridge serves as an annual image of national celebration each New Year’s Eve. During the Sydney Olympics, the Olympic Rings adorned the bridge for 16 glorious days and nights. From protest marches, to celebrations, parties and practicality the bridge has seen it all in its relatively short history and reminds us daily that it hopes to see a whole lot more.
Troubled Bridge Over Water – Nepal
Occasionally in life, we are required to put our lives in greater than risk than usual. I’m not talking life-threatening situations cast upon us, I’m talking entirely choice-driven scenarios.
This occurs in various situations, degrees and usually requires a degree of paranoia. Such activities include driving, crossing the road in peak time, flying, swimming in the ocean, drinking and sitting next to a Millwall fan.
Enroute to Everest Base Camp, of all the pitfalls one may imagine would endanger ones life, I had not considered the amount of bridges we would cross in a two-week period. Let me tell you, it’d be in the dozens. The quality of workmanship on these bridges varied. Generally, I took for granted that each bridge was built to a satisfactory quality for transportation of humans, goods and, probably, yaks.
The workmanship on some would best be described in antique magazines as “pre-loved” were they to be resold. Occasionally, we’d come to a newly constructed bridge with the surplus bridge left to rot beneath. Comforting, if not for the consideration that not all such bridges had been successfully circumvented – that perhaps other bridges were in need of an alternate route but none had been offered.
Case in point:
So over we’d go in our multitudes – Sherpas, porters, tourists, day packs, tents, kitchen equipment, portable toilets. Travelling, most often, between dilapidated ropes across wooden planks with sizeable gaps between them. The gaps ranged in size from train-platform width to (insert hockey player’s name here) teeth-wide.
It’s not to say that I thought like this when I crossed the bridges. Between the amazing locals, stunning visuals and life-altering journey, I found it difficult enough to remember to write in the journal each night let alone consider imminent plummeting from bridge-death scenarios.
That’s not to say it didn’t come close.
Crossing one bridge, in particular, comes to mind. It was the kind of bridge that would noticeably rock with each passing step. The kind of wobble that you could anticipate and adjust steps accordingly. That is until, of course, a mate of mind decided to chase me along the bridge. Now I was all of the size of Kate Moss as a child (I’m not sure exactly how big she was, but blow me down with a feather it must’ve been miniature) and he was the kind of guy you’d love to have camping with you. If you needed firewood, all you needed to do was point at a sizeable tree and you’d be basking in its burning ashes within minutes.
My twiggy being was no match for his quick, bulky figure and his step caused the bridge to jump like a heart rate after seeing Claire Danes in public when she was in her early-mid twenties. I failed to adjust my footing and was on a descending step when the bridge reared up at me with some force.
Like an uncoordinated mammal encountering a forceful trampoline, I speared forth into the air and for a moment I knew exactly how Michael Jordan would feel all those times jumping for two points – fucking petrified!
Moments passed as eons as I magically descended back to the side of the bridge. I scampered off the bridge and collected some dignity and sense of location before embarking back up the gully, undoubtedly heading to my next encounter with the GRIM REAPER!
I suppose, sometimes in life, we have to put our hands in the lives of others in order to grow, learn, experience, and appreciate. They don’t have the stature, name or international acclaim of other bridges, but they’ve arguably had a deeper impact on my psyche.
Sometimes the only way to grow is to close your eyes, choose a path, and walk along it – no matter how scary it may seem or what the potential pitfalls may be.
The Bridge With No Return
At one point in history, a man stood on one side of a bridge knowing that his next action would change the course of history.
He had spent years fighting for his nation abroad, leading his army to many victories and helping solidify the power of his republic. Whilst engaged in combat, however, his power was stripped from him and he was ordered to disband his army.
Faced with the choice between acquiescing to the requests of the senate and wanting to claim the power he rightfully believed was his, the man stood at the side of a bridge and fixed his eyes, not miles into the distance, but metres across a stream. A fickle stream whose exact path cannot even be determined today.
No man in command of a standing army was to cross this bridge for to cross it would invoke the law of the republic for him and his troops. To be cast as traitors – to bring about civil war.
Standing at the side of the stream by the Po Valley, I imagine a chilly afternoon breeze flicking his red tunic to and fro. Stern, battle-scarred expressions engraved into the faces of his men, Caesar stares coldly across the stream and directly into the future. The only thing more cutting than the weather was the anticipation – would he or wouldn’t he.
I imagine great consternation at the thought of crossing but, once made, I envisage a man acting on a sudden decision – an instant call to destiny which had to be adhered – and the men would cross with the road of a nation.
Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in January 49 BCE. His action invoked over 18 months of civil war that spread across the entire Mediterranean. His action lead, eventually, to the rise of the Roman Empire and his deification. It also lead to the murders of many.
This event occurred over 20 centuries ago yet lives on as a reminder that, at some points of our lives, we face points of no return.
Points when we need to take decisive action.
Points when our decisions will shape our lives, and the lives of those around us, into the unforeseeable future.
Points when we need to cross a bridge and look to the future. It’s not about not looking back – it’s about getting somewhere so that you can look back.
The Bridge that Wasn’t There
As far as I am aware, Ancient Egypt never erected a bridge across the Nile.
It makes sense, I suppose, as the flooding of the river would make it difficult to create permanent crossing points. Yet, for the purposes of this post, I will argue that it is for a different reason. I think this is fair enough – especially when we consider that, surely, a culture of people capable of building the pyramids would certainly have been able to construct a bridge!
My contention is this;
A bridge was never built across the Nile because the concept was incongruous with the Egyptian view of the world. Of life. Of death.
The East side of the Nile is, obviously, the side of the Nile where the sun rises. Egyptians understood this to mean that the Sun had been reborn to the East. Effectively, the Sun had died the previous evening and re-formed in the morning. Consequently, Egyptians believed the East side of the river to be the Land of the Living.
Conversely, the West was regarded as the Land of the Dead. Each night, the Sun died in the West and faced the afterlife – a process of transition into the Afterlife where the moon and stars aligned to give birth to a new Sun the next morning.
Humans were born in the East. Humans were buried in the West.
A natural order of life – a logical, sensible understanding of the cycle of life was represented in the physical word through location.
All houses, farms, businesses and palaces were situated on the East of the River Nile.
All funerary temples, pyramids, tombs and graves were on the West.
To build a bridge across these lands would not be logical. It would be out of balance, improbable and unnatural. Living beings cannot access the land of the dead. Only through death can people transition to this stage. A physical construction would be too-literal-a-connection to the afterlife. A bridge simply wouldn’t make sense.
So – there was no bridge. I like that. A belief was so strong that it literally affected those who upheld it. Not in a negative way – not in a suppressing way. Just…in a way.
The message I take from this (non) bridge is that our views and beliefs can literally mould the places we live.
Metaphorically or literally, our beliefs, outlooks and subsequent decisions form what our world looks like.
The Bridge Into the Future
What to take from all of this?
I suppose that life is fascinating. There is so much out there to explore, learn, experience, get right, get wrong. So much has gone before us – endured our lows, felt out highs.
Bridges can be crossed but re-crossed at a later date. Some bridges, however, can’t be re-crossed.
We need to know that our life is our own. Our decisions belong to us and can have lasting impacts on ourselves, our friends, our families, even strangers.
We need to be open-minded. You never know when you may be standing in a location of significance. Just as you never know the life experiences of the person sitting opposite you on a train.
Life’s options can be scary, but they should be considered deeply. Some decisions are shockers but even they can turn at the next bend of the road.
We should try our best not to burn bridges – we never know when we may need to cross them again.
We don’t have to know everything. But the more we learn the greater our fascination with this world becomes. With all its seen and all it may produce.
We need to know that, with each passing day, we are helping to build our bridge into the future.
Make it worthwhile, make it interesting, make it rich with love, understanding, hope and friendship.
I had been fascinated by the Medici for several years before travelling to Florence toward the end of 2008.
A charismatic, rule-bending, powerful, cheeky, ruthless family – the Medici were the dominate family in Florence for over 2 centuries. An especially admirable feat when considering that the political landscape of Florence was designed to not be dominated by a single family/group. The family ruled this beautiful city in all but title.
A quick snapshot of the Medici CV will offer a brief insight into their power:
The family were a key figure in the period of the High Renaissance.
Among the artists that they commissioned lay the names Brunelleschi, Donatello, Michelangelo and da Vinci.
Their reign lead to Mad Savonarola’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” (briefly seeing the Medici exiled before returning to their former glory – and to execute Savonarola).
Some of the architectural feats of the city regarded as being heavily influenced by the Medici include the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Medici. This is not to mention their involvement in the establishment of the Uffizi Gallery (the world’s oldest art gallery).
The Medici Bank was one of the most powerful during the 15th Century.
The family later produced 4 Popes and 2 regent Queens of France!
As you can see – they were pretty big…people knew them.
After the family had been allowed re-entry to Florence for the second time in the mid 1500s, the Medici solidified their standing. Allessandro de Medici was anointed Duke of Florence and the wife of Cosimo I de Medici purchased the Pitti Palace.
The Pitti Palace was located on the Oltrarno (the other side of the Arno) – long viewed as the poorer side of the city. The Medici family, nonetheless, relocated to this grand palace.
The only problem was that it was a much greater distance to walk to the Palazzo Signoria (where political decisions were to be made) and, even greater, the amount of commoners they would encounter along the way!
Not to be derailed, the Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to construct a secret corridor that would extend from the Palazzo Signoria, through the Uffizi gallery, across the Ponte Vecchio above the Arno, above the streets of the Oltrarno, through the back of a church and finally into the Pitti Palace (or the other way around, depending which end he started at). The Medici had discovered a way to literally walk above their neighbours.
I had to seek out this corridor. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was closed to the public for repairs.
Through the Piazza della Signoria we ventured – excitedly, to the side of the building we spotted this small walkway:
From in front of the entrance to the Uffizi, we could spot the extension of the corridor to the far end of the clearing. Excitement was building as we felt we were walking surreptitiously in the footsteps of the greats or, at least, near them!
Into the Uffizi we went. What we saw inside is probably best left for another post, but it was amazing nevertheless. In a little room in the Gallery (which can be seen in the middle of the above photo) I took this photo of the Ponte Vecchio – where the corridor extended:
Out of the Uffizi, we continued our search. Reaching the banks of the Arno, we found the corridor again sneaking its way around the corner to run parallel to the river before snaking its way across, above the famous bridge:
Here, the corridor can be seen in the top half of the bridge:
A close-up of the corridor:
A close-up of the corridor in the Ponte Vecchio. Apparently, the meat market used to be located on the Ponte Vecchio but was replaced because the Medici did not want the smell entering the corridor. The meat market was replace by goldsmith shops (which are still located on the bridge):
We walked to the Ponte Vecchio and wandered across to the Oltrarno. It didn’t take long before we spotted the corridor above the shops and homes:
Along the cobbled streets we preyed, each iron-clad window signalling our successful journey. Here, the corridor detours slightly to the Church of Santa Felecita. The Medici, indeed, had their own viewing station from the corridor:
As I wasn’t specifically allowed to take photos within the church, I could not get a clear view (I had to take one for the sake of the ninjaesque mission!):
Exiting the church and continuing along the street we finally reached the end of our journey. We had successfully followed the path laid out by that great family to the Palazzo Pitti (though we’d seen more commoners than the Medici would have endured!):
And there you have it! Our journey through the beautiful streets of Firenze, from the centre of government, to the beauty of the river, stumbling across a church and finally a grand palace. It was a slight shame that we couldn’t go in, but in a way that added to the majesty of the exploration.
In case you’re travelling to Florence, this may be a tour you would enjoy. I’m not sure if they are currently allowing visits and I believe they only accept limited numbers each day, so perhaps book ahead?