Arch Bridge, an Ancient Charm

There are different views on the origin of arches. Some believe the first arch was a natural formation over the caverns, others claim that it was brought into being by the piling of the collapsed stones. The oldest arch bridge in China, which is still surviving and well-preserved, is the Anji Bridge, also known as the Zhaozhou Bridge, at Zhouxian, Hebei Province, built in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618). It is a single segmental stone arch, composed of 28 individual arches bonded transversely, 37.02m in span and rising 7.23m above the chord line.

The Anji Bridge has a segmental deck and the parapets are engraved with dragons and other animals. The bridge, exquisite in workmanship, unique in structure, well-proportioned and graceful in shape, and meticulous yet lively in engraving, has been regarded as one of the greatest achievements in China.

Stone arches in China vary in structure in accordance with different land transport as well as different natures between the north and south waterways. In the north, what prevails is the flat-deck bridge with solid spandrels, thick piers and arch rings, whereas in the south crisscrossed with rivers, the hump-shaped bridge with thin piers and shell arches prevails.

The Lugou Bridge across the Youngding River, which is a typical stone arch in ancient Northern China, is located at Wanping County, 30 li away from Guanganmen, Beijing, The parapets are divided into 269 sections with columns in-between, each column crowned with a carved lion, and each lion has its individual posture.

In the southern part of China, networked with navigable rivers, boats were the main means of transportation. As bridges were to be built over tidal waters and their foundations laid in soft soil, even the stone arch bridge had to be built with thin piers and shell arches in order that its weight could be lessened as much as possible.

The bridge in classical Chinese gardens not only serves as a passage, but is an integral part of the garden scenery, either as a highlight or a setoff. One masterpiece of this kind is the Wuting (Five Pavilions) Bridge, also known as the Lianhua (Lotus Flower) Bridge in the Shouxi Lake in Yangzhou,Jiangsu Province.