Ever since I gazed on London’s own Tower Bridge for the first time I have always loved visiting (and crossing) bridges – both metaphorical and structural ones. In the part of the world where I live now bridges can be particularly spectacular and special. (Just to point to one – the Ponte della Maddalena otherwise known as the Devil’s bridge – mentioned in my previous commuting blog and also at Debra Kolkka’s blog at http://bellabagnidilucca.com/2012/02/19/ponte-della-maddalena-devils-bridge/). And they come in all shapes, sizes, concepts and materials here: stone, brick, iron, concrete, steel and wood.
The Ponte sospeso on the way to Abetone on the Brennero road is one of my favourites. This suspension footbridge links the two sides of the river Lima valley between Mammiano in the municipality of San Marcello Pistoiese and Popiglio in the municipality of Piteglio. The “Ponte Sospeso” was opened in 1923, by an Italian-Scottish industrialist, Vincenzo Scotti Douglas, Earl of San Giorgio della Scala, and director of the Mammiano metal works to allow workers from Popiglio to come to work without having to do a six kilometre walk, thus saving at least half-an-hour on their commuting time.
The four steel cables slung across the Lima valley are 227 metres long and hang at a maximum height of 36 metres above the river – the footway on top is 1.3 metres wide
The bridge no longer serves its original function since the metal works have now been closed for some time. It was in danger of collapsing entirely but in 2004, a thorough restoration secured the ponte making it more stable and resilient through the replacement of cables, and the “catwalk” itself, with more modern and lighter steel ones. Again, a couple of years ago the bridge was closed because landslides had threatened the cable anchors. But on a recent visit I was pleased to note that the bridge was again crossable and that its approach footpaths had been nicely re-graded. The following photos were taken in 2005:
Unless one suffers from vertigo the bridge is perfectly safe to cross although three situations should be avoided: one, when there is a strong wind blowing down the valley, two, when there are parties of enthusiastic schoolchildren who love making the bridge sway and three, if one has drunk too much grappa for lunch. There is a nice area for picnicking and some interesting information boards on the Mammiano side.
On the valley floor near the Ponte Sospeso there is another bridge built by the condottiere Castruccio Castracani in 1317. It’s perfectly possible to cross the two bridges as part of a single walk and you get a truly enjoyable historical and engineering outing through two widely different eras.
In 1990 the Ponte sospeso was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world.” But it was overtaken in 2006 by the o Kokonoe Yume Bridge in Japan (which is 390 metres long). Here is a picture of the Japanese footbridge.