Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bridge Over Not So Troubled Waters: Spanning Communities and Building Relationships

by Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo-Noche

Notice when one travels the length and breadth of the country, the traveler is greeted with a myriad of scenery’s, from pristine beaches with powder fine sand, azure blue seas covered with a forest of corals, majestic mountains with profiles that tests your most vivid of imaginations, ancient and not so ancient structures left by various colonizers, and the most fun loving and hospitable of peoples in this part of the world. Yet when we visit these sights we normally forget that there are structures dotted in our landscape that make visiting and experiencing these marvels possible. Traveling by land is still the most natural and preferred mode of transport in and around the country and this has been made possible not only by the provision of quality grade road networks that make traveling comfortable and memorable, but also in a very discreet way, by bridges, which span the gaps of the earth’s profile. These bridges which in most cases are unnoticed by any seasoned traveler bring communities together, enabling produce and relations to be established and sites which other wise would be passed by, noticed. And what was once separated by torrents of water, or treacherous ravines can now be accessed with ease with the presence of a bridge. No wonder throughout the course of history, bridges have played an integral part in the building of communities.

Bridges have appeared in different guises throughout the course of human evolution. From one made by Mother Nature, in the form of a fallen wooden tree, to those made by man such as a simple wooden plank laid out across a gap. With a little know how in engineering and with the basic tools of construction, soon men crossed the gaps with more interesting designs and with longer spans enabling distances to be crossed at any desired location. Bridges became part of the landscape, in some cases it heralded the arrival into an important town. Tolls were collected and customs laid claim to any item deemed taxable. On the other hand there were those which became so significant in the survival of communities that they were converted to virtual fortresses, inventing devises that would enable spans to be drawn away from intruding enemies, thus saving the town from intrusion and subsequent destruction. In highly populous communities, bridges became virtual cities with houses built on top of them, a fine example is the Renaissance Bridge of Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, where today expensive shops line both sides of the span. Similarly in London, England, the famed London Bridge, which as the nursery rhyme would say “kept falling down” was once an inhabited bridge, only later in the early 19th century did the original structure give way to a much wider and modern bridge which, in a strange twist of fate would as well be replaced by the new London Bridge of the 1970’s. By the mid 19th century with the Industrial Revolution in full steam across Europe, a new material, steel became the material of choice. Bridges made of metal plates, riveted together crossed daring spans. Bridge design as well took a different turn, with spans traversed either in suspension or a series of trussed beams. In time, bridges started to accommodate different modes of transport. From the traditional horse drawn carriage to the automobile, from trains to narrow hull boats, from people to water, bridges have been built primarily to assist man in his needs to travel.

In the Philippines, the construction of bridges occurred with the colonization of the islands by the Spaniards. Prior to their arrival, tribal communities lived beside bodies of water and traveled from one place to another via small boats. The Spaniards on the other hand in their desire to colonize and Christianize the natives established fixed communities under a system of governance and town planning known as Leyes de las Indias, or the Laws of the Indies. This dictated that communities should be permanent and safe, and accessible by land or sea to other towns. With the necessity of accessibility, especially by land, the need to establish road links and subsequently bridges became a priority of the Spanish Colonial authorities. The building of roads and bridges, Caminos y Puentes, in the country was initially conducted by the Spanish Friars assigned to a particular mission. These friars were neither trained engineers nor builders but with a basic understanding of Renaissance building techniques as well as most likely a pattern book brought in from Mexico or Europe, the construction of lasting bridges commenced. Though subsequently replaced by trained Engineers from Spain, the Inspección General de Obras Publicas or the General Board of Public Works was created by Royal Decree in 1866, the construction of these bridges, some still standing has proven that ancient building principles and techniques can never be replaced by modern technology. Though during the latter part of Spanish colonization, and with the arrival of the Americans in 1898, technology did come in with the construction of four significant bridges in the country. The Puente de España, the precursor to the Jones Bridge was a bridge of major proportions to be built across the mighty Rio del Pasig. Erected in 1875 to replace the earlier Puente Grande, the Puente de España had six spans of masonry and two central arches of iron. Capable of accommodating pedestrian and vehicular traffic, at that time consisting of horse or carabao drawn carts and carriages as well as a modern trolley system, the tranvia, the Puente de España lasted until its subsequent replacement during the 1930’s with Juan Arellano’s Neo-Classical masterpiece, Jones Bridge. Another significant structure erected across the Pasig was the precursor to the art deco Quezon Bridge in Quiapo. The Puente de Colgante was the second bridge to be opened to cross the river. A beautiful piece of engineering in a time when Manila was vying for the title of Paris of the Orient, the Puente de Colgante was a suspension bridge. Erected in 1852 by Matia, Menchacatorre y Cia, a private company, the bridge, had the distinction of having probably two “firsts” in its reputation. The first suspension bridge, not only the Philippines but in South East Asia as well, and, probably the first toll bridge of its kind in the Philippines, a precursor of the modern Sky Way, albeit for pedestrian use only. The third to be built spanning the Pasig was the Puente de Convalecencia or better known as the Ayala Bridge, originally composed of two separate spans connected by the Isla de Convalecencia, which is home to Hospisio de San Jose, dropping point for abandoned babies, the bridge over this island was originally made of wooden arched trusses. Completed in 1880, it suffered major structural damage and completely collapsed 10 years later. This was subsequently replaced with a simple metal saw trussed bridge in the last decade of the 19th century, though not significant for its design, its engineer nevertheless is important in the annals of Philippine history, for it was the only bridge that the famed French Engineer by the name of Gustave Eiffel built in the country. This bridge, famous for its engineer or otherwise, similarly didn’t last long and was subsequently replaced. The fourth significant span to be erected in the islands is small in comparison to those that crossed the mighty rivers of our country. Covering only a small distance, roughly about 15 meters, the bridge over the Estero de Binondo in Manila is unique due to its ability to lift its platform from the ground to accommodate passing boats or cascos. The Lift Bridge inaugurated in 1913 was the only one of its kind in the country. Spared from the destruction that befell most of colonial Manila during the Liberation, the Lift Bridge of Estero de Binondo was until recently the only link to both banks of the estero along Calle Dasmariñas until, its subsequent replacement by the most beautiful of all DPWH bridges, the standard concrete bridge.

During the American Commonwealth Period, a frenzy of bridge building was experienced throughout the whole archipelago. Great engineers and builders as they were, the American Master proved that what could be linked by a bridge was indeed connected. Only immense distances hampered the erection of a bridge and it was only long after independence that a bridge would connect major island groups.

Other bridges as well crossed the various spans that litter our country. With the arrival of the trains, railroad bridges became increasingly important. Though uniform in nature, these bridges especially those built along the northern and southern lines bear witness to the growth and prosperity of the communities that the railroads passed. Though a majority of these bridges were destroyed during the Second World War, its eventual reconstruction heralded a new dawn to a war ravaged country. Today these rail bridges that connect Manila to the north and south are still standing, though the north line has been abandoned, the ghosts of its past still haunt the familiar landscape with its bridges standing isolated and unused. The south line on the other hand is very much in use and its bridges constantly being inspected and repaired for the safe journey of not only the locomotives that pass above her but the make shift trolleys that ply her rails.

Today as we enter the new millennia, ambitious projects are underway, though most of it still in the drawing boards. Old bridges, aesthetically appealing as they may be are being replaced by modern albeit mundane spans, capable of carrying a much greater load and a larger capacity. A link connecting the Islands of Panay and Guimaras and eventually to Negros is being studied. Likewise a bridge from Dumaguete to the southern tip of Cebu is being planned. Also in the drawing boards is a bridge connecting Luzon with Mindoro. Utopian as it may seem, it should be remembered that it was only recently that the famous San Juanico Bridge joined the Islands of Leyte and Samar. Today another bridge has been inaugurated crossing the Mactan Straits. So it is not impossible that in the future bridges would connect our scattered islands making travel from Aparri to Jolo possible by car without ever boarding a boat or ferry to cross the treacherous seas that once scared even the most experienced navigator.

With the future within our reach, and technology making the impossible possible, soon the whole nation would be joined in one. As most of the western world has started to connect with one another, physically as well as through cyber space, the globalization of our country has similarly begun. Bridges and eventually tunnels would span open waters, and through these people and the commerce and cultures that they bring will be experienced and shared by all. What Mother Nature initiated, with a fallen tree across a treacherous gap has been improved by man with the multitude of bridges that he has designed throughout the ages. The country has been part of this experience, hosting a variety of designs and technology, from the primitive span to the Steel Cabled Suspension Bridge. It is only a matter of time, and money for our utopian dreams of linking the whole country to become a reality. For with the progress in development of technology and innovative bridge design, the Philippines will be bridged not only into the future but also into a brave new world.

Mauca Railroad Bridge
Ragay, Provincia de Camarines Sur
Used more by makeshift trolleys that ply the Southern Tracks, the Mauca Railroad Bridge has a unique span with inverted truss support rather than the usual saw truss.

San Juan del Monte Bridge
San Juan del Monte, Metro Manila
Built in 1883 as a viaduct to supply fresh drinking water to Manila, the bridge over the San Juan River, drawn up by Geraro Palacios y Guerra, stands as a mute witness to the turmoils that led to the start of the Philippine-American War of 1898.

Puente del Caprichio
Majayjay, Provincia de la Laguna
Built in 1826 by Fray Victorino del Moral de Calatrava to provide a footway to town. Built over the river Olla, the arch is 90 feet high, constructed using Mamposteria technique, (rough stone placed one on top of another) and bound together using only a lime mixture.

Quezon Bridge
Spanning the mighty Rio del Pasig, the Quezon bridge, built in the 1930’s replaced the aging Colgante Foot Bridge. Designed in the prevailing Art Deco style, the bridge echoed the Sydney Harbor Bridge which no doubt was its inspiration.

Candaba River Suspension Bridge
Candaba, Pampanga
Spanning the mighty Rio Grande de Pampanga, this bridge built during the American Period was heavily damaged during the Second World War and was subsequently rebuilt in 1946 with the reconstruction aid granted by the United States of America. Today, a more modern concrete bridge is replacing this unique bridge over the Rio Grande de Pampanga.

Labangan Railway Bridge
Calumpit, Provincia de Bulacan
Spanning the Rio Grande de Angat, the bridge erected in c.1887 is made of metal lattice work and previously decorated with cast iron moldings in its approach.

Bauang River Bridge
Bauang, Provincia de la Union
Completed in 1929, the Railway Bridge over the Bauang River in la Union was the longest bridge ever built by the Manila Railroad Company. Today this bridge lays silent, abandoned after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo destroyed much of the track of the Manila North Line.

Puente de Santa Maria
Santa Maria, Provincia de Ilocos Sur
Built during the 19th century, one of the few remaining bridges built by the Spanish Colonial Authorities, the bridge in the town of Santa Maria is made entirely of bricks. Proof of its durability and strength, the bridge still withstands the weight of passing busses and trucks.

Puente de Mabacao Bridge
Maragondon, Cavite
Crossing over the Cay Alvaran River, the Mabacao Bridge is one of the few remaining steel trussed bridges built during the Spanish Period.

Puente de Malagonlong
Tayabas, Quezon
Built in 1850 by Don Julian S. Francisco, the bridge which is one of the few remaining long spans built by the Spaniards in the Philippines, is made of 5 wide arches spanning the Dumacan River.

Puente de Alitao
Tayabas, Quezon
Built in 1823, the bridge which traverses the Alitao River in Tayabas, Quezon, was built by Don Diego Urbano. Composed of two Adobe arches, the bridge has been recently been widened with cement piers attached to the original adobe span.

Puente de Capricho
Lucban, Quezon
Now more popularly known as Puente de Arco, the bridge made of adobe was constructed in 1851. Originally a two arched bridge that spans the Camatian River only one arch remains standing.

Puente de Olla
Majayjay, Laguna
A single arched bridge which spans the Olla River, is made of adobe in 1874. The bridge is also dedicated to the Nuestra Señora de la Porteria whose shrine is situated below it.

Puente de Dampol
Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya
Built in 1818 by Fray Francisco Rocamora OP, the single arched brick bridge spans the Abanatan Creek.


Anonymous said...

I was extremely interested in this article as my father was a highway engineer in the Philippines 1946-1955 and was involved in rebuilding many of the bridges mentioned. As a boy of 13, I attended the dedication of the Candaba Suspension Bridge in 1953; in fact, my mother cut the ribbon that opened the bridge. I would like to know if the pre-war bridge was also a suspension bridge, and would be grateful for any information on this subject.

Lonn Taylor
Fort Davis, Texas

Anonymous said...

What an interesting study. I did some work on bridges too, albeit the modern ones: foot bridges. I wish I stumbled upon this entry earlier, while researching about the history of bridges. Surely this would have furthered my interests.

In any case, thank you for posting wonderful articles such as this.

dustin dewind said...


I have been trying hard to find people who could help me saved our good old spanish bridge located at Kayquit, Indang, Cavite. I have alerted the National Historical Institute about the deteriorating condition of the bridge, I've written our congressman about it and talked with local officials but has not received any positive response, nobody seems to care anymore about our past heritages so out of dissapointment, I have posted the pictures of the bridge in my Facebook wall which can be viewed by anyone, ( dustin.dewind.7 )
Could you help me find the right connections and thanks for your time.

Very respectfully yours,
Dustin Dewind