The Roman Bridge of Cordoba that Transported Armies, and Spans Time
Ancient structures often tell us a great deal about the history of a region or country. They reveal what materials were available, the culture and beliefs of the people, and which nations, if any, had influence over or traded with the people of the area. The magnificent Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain, is a prime example. This world-famous bridge played an important role in the history of Spain - from the Ancient World, through the Middle Ages, and continuing today.
The History of the Roman Bridge and How it Changed
Cordoba was originally an Iberian settlement that was deeply influenced by Carthaginians. The Romans, primarily under a general and politician called Metellus, captured the town in the 1st century BC. Emperor Augustus made it the capital of the province of Hispania Ulterior (Further Spain), and it became extremely prosperous because of its natural resources.
Roman soldiers and their general (vukkostic/ Adobe Stock)
The Romans, possibly under the direction of Augustus, replaced the wooden bridge over the River Guadalquivir initially built by the Iberians. This new stone bridge became part of the major road known as the Via Augustus. This structure was of great strategic importance and was used by Roman legions during their many campaigns against the native Iberians during revolts.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths created a powerful kingdom in Iberia. In the 8 th century AD a combined Arab and Berber army invaded Iberia and what is now modern Spain became part of the Umayyad Empire. Later, after the rise of the Abbasid Empire, Cordoba became the capital of the Umayyad Emirate and later a Caliphate. Cordoba was to be the capital of Muslim Spain for several centuries and the city grew to be the largest in Europe. It also became a major cultural center, where Muslim and Jewish scholars and writers flourished.
The Calahorra Tower next to the Roman Bridge, Cordoba (Javier Romera /Adobe Stock)
As the bridge had not been carefully maintained through the centuries, it had fallen into a state of dilapidation. It was rebuilt in the 720s AD by Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, the Umayyad governor.
Many elements of Islamic design were added to the original Roman structure. Much like the Romans, powerful Muslim rulers such as Abd-al-Rahman III and Al-Hakam II, led armies over the bridge during their annual campaigns against the Christians states in the north and often crucified their enemies on the bridge.
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Statue of Archangel Raphael on the Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain (Leonid Andronov / Adobe Stock)
The Calahorra Tower, a fortified gate, was added by the Berber Almohad Dynasty in the 12 th century to protect the bridge. Christians captured Cordoba and the bridge was used by their armies in their campaigns against the Muslims for many years. During the 16 th century, the local municipality erected a Renaissance gate, the Puerta del Puente, and in the 17 th century, the local authorities commissioned a sculpture of St Raphael, the patron of Cordoba, in an effort to erase the bridge’s past Muslim associations. The statue was placed in the center of the structure and has become a shrine where believers place candles and offerings.
The bridge has been rebuilt and restored several times and today is a major tourist attraction. It was also used as a location for an episode in Games of Thrones, Season 5.
One of The World’s Great Bridges
The bridge is 820 feet long (247 m) and is 29 feet (9 m) wide. Of the original irregularly spaced 17 arches, 16 remain as one was removed during the Islamic period. Most of the current structure dates from the Moorish period and much of the design of the bridge is Islamic in inspiration. In the 19 th century, the local municipality laid cobbled stones across the bridge.
The Calahorra Tower, which for so many years guarded the bridge, was built in an Islamic style. It consists of two towers connected by a central cylindrical tower and is almost 100 feet high (30m). In 1369 it was restored by King Enrique II of Castile to defend the city from attacks by his brother, Pedro I the Cruel.
Puerta del Puente, Roman bridge at night with the Mosque Cathedral of Cordoba (Reimar/ Adobe Stock)
Puerta del Puente, which bears the city’s crest, stands at the other end of the bridge and offers expansive views of the area from its balcony.
Visiting the Cordoba Bridge
Easily accessible, the bridge is right in the heart of the historic city of Cordoba where there are many Moorish and medieval buildings and monuments to visit. There is no fee charged to walk across the bridge although a small amount is charged to enter the museum now housed in the Calahorra Tower where the long and fascinating history of Cordoba has been preserved. A small fee is also charged to enter the exhibition room in Puerta del Puente. Although the bridge can be crowded during the summer months, it is an experience not to be missed.
Top image: Cordoba, Spain Skyline Source: SeanPavonePhoto/ Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
Hillenbrand, R. (1992). The ornament of the world: medieval Córdoba as a cultural centre. The Legacy of Muslim Spain, 1, 112-35
Knapp, R. C. (1983). Roman Cordoba (Vol. 30). Univ of California Press
Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=YxLyFn_ZQtsC&oi=fnd&pg=PP12&dq=ROMAN+BRIDGE+CORDOBA+&ots=Wdf6UswCoU&sig=OsmT6laskuW5okGWEvDZUyf7Dcc#v=onepage&q=ROMAN%20BRIDGE%20CORDOBA&f=false
Marías, F. (2018). Local antiquities in Spain: From Tarragona to Córdoba. In Local antiquities, local identities. Manchester University Press