Zhaozhou Bridge: Largest and Oldest Stone-arched Bridge in the World
   2013-09-06 12:44:44    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: ZhangPeng

This photo, taken on August 29, shows the main entrance of the Zhaozhou Bridge Park in Zhaoxian County, north China's Hebei province. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.COM/ZhangPeng]

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), the wide Jiaohe River located at the south of today's Zhaoxian County in Hebei province presented a problem for locals. The river's swift waters blocked the residents living along the river from reaching the other side. It is said that a renowned artisan named Lu Ban traveled to the Jiaohe River when he learnt of the issue. He displayed his skillfulness through building the huge stone Zhaozhou Bridge in one night. The story of Lu Ban building the Zhaozhou Bridge overnight then spread throughout ancient China and the Zhaozhou Bridge started to become the centre of attention.

The enduring legend of the construction of the Zhaozhou Bridge reflects its reputation and status among Chinese people to this day. However, the truth is that the Zhaozhou Bridge was first built during the Daye reign (605-616AD) of the Sui Dynasty (581-618AD) by the designer Li Chun. The bridge took 11 years to complete and features a stone arch made of massive limestone wedges reinforced with iron. The bridge is distinguishable by its main arch which curves to a shallow arc instead of the half circle which was usually adopted by Roman engineers at that time.

The Zhaozhou Bridge is 64.4 meters long and 9 meters wide, with the large stone arch in the middle spanning 37.02 meters. There are two smaller symmetrical arches at each end of the bridge. This unique structure of the bridge not only saves building materials but also makes sluicing during the flood season much easier.

According to historical records, the Zhaozhou Bridge, built in 605 AD, suffered from floods 10 times, wars 8 times and earthquakes more times still. The 7.6 magnitude earthquake which occurred at Xingtai in 1966 did not damage the bridge, located just 40 kilometers away from the epicenter of the earthquake. "Its internal structure aside, its existence of more than 1400 years does all the explaining," said Mao Yishen, a well-known bridge expert in China.

Today, the Zhaozhou Bridge has been developed into a key tourist site in Zhaoxian County. Known as Zhaozhou Bridge Park, the Zhaozhou Bridge lies at its center. Entry to the park costs 35 yuan.

The park's archaic gate is the first spot attracting your eyes when you enter the park.

After an enjoyable stroll through one of the park's boulevards, you are greeted by the spectacular bridge, which shines like a pearl set among the interspersed pavilions, green grass and majestic pines.

The bridge has been restored several times in different ages; however, all the original relics from the old bridge which are now deemed "national treasures" have been preserved and are displayed in the exhibition room at the end of the park.

In addition, the showrooms feature introductions to the surrounding environment and culture and a model designed for the future expansion of the park.

When you finish viewing the exhibitions of the relics, a lane to the left of the exhibition room leads you to the Zhaozhou folk-custom street. The street represents the epitome of the folk and bridge cultures of ancient Zhaozhou County. Various sculptures distributed on both sides of the road depict daily life and society in Zhaozhou. Delicate snacks with special local flavors can be tasted here, and of course, you can also purchase various antiques, paintings, handicrafts and souvenirs on this street.

The end of the amazing street also means the end of the trip to Zhaozhou Bridge Park. The Zhaozhou Bridge has stood above the Jiaohe River for more than 1000 years; hopefully with the efforts of both the local government and residents, the bridge will continue to stand there as not just a tourist attraction but a treasure for everyone to enjoy.   

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