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a work of ingenuity that rivals the work of God
[PureInsight.org] Located above today’s Jiao River in Zhao County, Hebei Province, China, Zhaozhou Bridge was previously known as Anji Bridge. It was probably built between the Sui and the Tang dynasties and has existed for approximately 1,300 years. Zhaozhou Bridge is not only the most ancient stone arch bridge in China, but also the most ancient stone arch bridge with a traceable history in the world’s history of bridges.
Zhaozhou Bridge measures 122.60 feet in length, or 166.73 feet if both ends of the bridge are included. It has 29.53 feet in width and 23.72 feet in height. Modern bridge architecture researchers noted the following features of Zhaozhou Bridge:
There are two smaller arches at each ends of Zhaozhou Bridge; they are called side arches. The four side arches effectively reduce the impact of the water on the bridge in the event of flooding because water can pass through the side arches. Another merit of building side arches is economy. Building the four side arches saved approximately 700 tons of stones. The side arches also reduced the total weight of the bridge by 15.3% and, thus, increased its safety coefficient by 11.4%.
During the past 1,300 years since Zhaozhou Bridge was built, it has endured ten floods, eight battles and numerous earthquakes. In March 1966, a 7.2-degree earthquake occurred in Xingtai, nearly 40 miles from Zhaozhou. All the buildings near Zhaozhou Bridge underwent severe structural damage, but the bridge remained unharmed, which illustrated its powerful resilience to earthquakes. Since the Xingtai Earthquake, many experts have developed an interest in studying Zhaozhou Bridge.
Zhaozhou Bridge’s foundation is extremely solid and its weight estimate is incredibly accurate. After 1,300 years, both ends of the bridge have each sunk no more than 5 centimeters. No modern expert is able to account for the shockingly accurate weight estimate in ancient China 1,300 years ago.
Most stone arch bridges built during the same period have bigger arches for the bridges’ surface because it is a challenge to build a smaller arch. Zhaozhou Bridge has a very small and elegant arch for its bridge surface, which makes it easier for people and horse carriages to travel across the bridge. Zhaozhou Bridge also has an artistic simplicity to it. Its beautiful arch resembles a crescent moon. The carved dragons and beasts on the bridge are vivid and each has its own unique look.
Who on earth built this ancient Chinese architectural miracle? There was a stone tablet at the pier of Zhaozhou Bridge that says, “The stone bridge over the Jiao River at Zhao County was built by a craftsman of the Sui Dynasty, Li Chun.” This is the only historical record on Zhaozhou Bridge. The stone tablet was lost for many years and has only been recently discovered. However, the carvings on the stone tablet have become blurry. A high-level official of the Tang Dynasty, Zhang Jiazhen, wrote in an essay, “The stone bridge over the Jiao River in Zhaozhou is the work by a craftsman of the Sui Dynasty, Li Chun. It was a work of ingenuity. No one knows the secret behind the architecture.”
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