The Old Bridge
Mª Jesús Esteban Quiñoá
The city of Lucus Augusti was the administrative centre of the Convento Lucense, one of the three created on the NW of Hispania, in the inland or Tarraconense province, as a result of the land division done by emperor Augustus few years before Christ. It was situated in a flat area of the left bank of the river Miño, near the thermal springs. The city of Lucus Augusti was created from a military camp probably used by the Legio VI during the “Cantabrian” wars. The military presence would last for a decade, until Augustus decides that the camp should be the most important urban civil settlement of the northwest of the peninsula.
The city of Lugo was crossed by two "vias": the XIX, from Bracara to Iria, from which place it turned to the east and got to Lucus Augusti crossing the Old Bridge on the river Miño and it ended up in Asturica; and the XX, also called “per loca maritima”, which probably crossed the river Miño through the old Ombreiro bridge.
The Old Bridge, or Roman bridge of Lugo that can be seen today is the result of many repairs, extensions and reconstructions, and very little indeed remains from the original one. In the summer of 1995, several remains of the via XIX coming from Ourense were found. Taking advantage of the low water level of that season and the deflection of the river to build a main sewer, these works made it possible to identify the Roman origin of the bases of the three pillars of the bridge and to make a more thorough study of it. The Roman remains discovered on the bases of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th pillars are made of blocks of granite with the same measure: 115x56x44cms, put together with ropes and firebrands. The thickness of the pillars (4.60 m) and the width of the vaults (5.00 m) and the span (10.49 m) are the standard measures of a Roman bridge. The design of the old Roman pillars was rectangular. According to Dr. Manuel Durán Fuentes, the bridge may have originally had 6 arches of semicircular vaults and similar spans (10.40 m), and the pillars may have also had similar widths (4.60 m) and a horizontal slope. The gap that used to be between the left bank and the slope was probably solved with a similarly long entrance ramp (like the one on the left bank of the Roman bridge in Mérida). This was the area with a deeper impact, as it was on this side where the river overflowed, for example in 1898.
The present day bridge has 8 arches (none of which comes from the Roman times) of different shapes built with slabs and granite. If we start counting the arches looking from the side where the waters flow, on the left side, , we can see that the first two are a little pointed and built in blocks of granite, the 3rd and the 4th are semicircular and the 5th and the 6th are pointed, like the 7th and 8th arches, which are considered the oldest ones, from the medieval times thanks to the cross-shaped stonemason marks and the symbols found there. The bridge may have been horizontal in Roman times, sloped in the medieval times and horizontal again nowadays.
The width of the road is not uniform, between 3.80 m on the left access and 4.90 on the right one. The platforms made in the 19th century have a uniform width of 1.5 m.
History of the building of the roman bridge of Lugo and its reforms
There are no details about the date of the building of this bridge, but it can be dated between the 1st and 2nd centuries, when Lucus achieves great importance as the capital of the legal convent. According to some historians, the bridge was destroyed during the Germanic invasions and rebuilt later on.
In 778, king Afonso I gave the bishop of Lugo the right of toll in return for the obligation to run with the costs of maintenance and repair.
The Church had a special interest in maintaining the roads and in the preservation and repair of the bridges, which were of the utmost importance both for the daily life of the parishes and to protect the travellers and keep the pilgrimage ways open. These alterations and reconstructions were considered not only charity but they were actions that helped the “salvations of the souls of the benefactors”, as is reflected in wills that assigned some quantity of money to this type of works. This is the case of Ximena Froylaz (1199), who bequeathed 20 sours, the priest Román, who left two sours, the archdeacon Fernández Martínez (1297), who left 100 coins. There is record of repairs of the bridge in the years 1289 and 1331.
In 1578 Caietano Gonzalo Yáñez was asked to put a wooden door with a lock to control the passage. This was paid equally by the bishop, the city and the council.
Fray Xoan de Pozo, in 1648, made some more repairs and in 1734 some arches and cutwaters of the bridge were repaired. A year later, the foreman of the Cathedral of Lugo, Antón Ferro Caaveiro wrote a report were he thought necessary to repair the chapel in the middle of the bridge and the road surface and to carve a new royal coat of arms. He also proposed to modify the banisters and to build the 8th arch of the left bank in order to avoid flooding.
The town council and the bishop argued about the ownership of the bridge. Then, in 1783, when Bishop Francisco Armañá became unconcerned of its repairing after some big flooding, the council did the works on their own and the bishop, annoyed, decided to close the passage through the bridge. This dispute ended in December 1792, when it was decided that the bishops would be in charge of making and paying for the repairs and preservation of the bridge.
Until the last years of the 19th century, the bridge was a medieval one with double slope and triangular cutwaters crowned with semi conical cowls. In 1893, the engineer Godofredo A. Cascos made the project to repair and widen it, changing the slope, reducing it and building some projecting platforms with metallic beams leaning on pillars that came from the previously destroyed cutwaters.
There is a new reform in sight, in order to give it back its original aspect and to make it a pedestrian crossing only. Nowadays, about 16000 vehicles cross the bridge daily and in the new project the asphalt is going to be substituted by stones, the access of vehicles will be in only one direction and restricted to residents and public transport. It is going to be 104 m long and the metallic platforms are going to be suppressed. In this work, phone lines and water pipes that can be seen hanging from one platform are going to be suppressed. They are going to be hidden inside the filling of the bridge. Besides, the lightning will be on the floor, placing the light spots on the banisters and it will have an ornamental value. No action is planned on the vault, as although the bridge is very old, it does not have significant structural damages. In the restoration, raw material from the area will be used: slabs, granite and paving.
- ARIAS VILA, Felipe/de ABEL VILELA, Adolfo (1975): Guía romana de Lugo y su provincia. Lugo
- AMOR MEILÁN, M (1980) Tomo Lugo en Geografía general del Reino de Galicia. Reed. A Coruña
- ALVARADO BLANCO, Segundo/DURÁN FUENTES, Manuel/NÁRDIZ ORTIZ, Carlos (1989) Puentes históricos de Galicia. Col.oficial de ingenieros de caminos, canales y puertos. Xunta de Galicia. A Coruña
- ALVARADO, S/ASTOR, R/ BAS, B/, DURÁN, M /NARDIZ, C. (1985) Inventario de puentes históricos en Galicia, D. Xeral do Patrimonio (Xunta de Galicia). Colegio de Ingenieros de Caminos. Santiago
- DURÁN FUENTES, Manuel (2004) La construcción de puentes romanos en Hispania”. Xunta de Galicia. Santiago de Compostela.
- FERNÁNDEZ Casado, C. (1980): Historia del puente en España. Puentes romanos. Instituto Eduardo Torroja. Madrid.
- RODRÍGUEZ COLMENERO, A./ CARREÑO GASCÓN, C/ y otros. (1995) Urbs Romana. Los orígenes de la ciudad de Lugo. Excmo. Concello de Lugo.