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Oporto's Bridges: As Pontes do Porto

21 October 2016

The defunct Dona Maria Pia railway bridge

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Compiled by John Laidlar


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A Ponte das Barcas (Bridge of Boats) was put in place across the river Douro in 1806, comprising 20 boats tied together with metal cables and with the capability to open to allow passage of vessels up the river. This, of course, no longer exists, having been replaced by the seven bridges noted below, six of which remain in situ.

The Six (and a bit) Bridges

Oporto, Portugal's second city, has a magnificent natural setting on the north bank of the River Douro, just a few miles inland from its opeing into the Atlantic Ocean. By summer 2001 there were six fixed crossings of the Douro at Oporto, within less than a 10km stretch of the river. These are listed below, in order of date of construction. In location sequence, starting upstream, the first to be encountered is the Freixo road bridge, which is not visible from the Ribeira, Oporto's central river-front, as the river bends to the south just east of the city-centre. Next come the two contrasting railway bridges of S. João (modern) and Dona Maria Pia (historic), followed by the new concrete road crossing, the Infante bridge. The sequence is completed by the majestic double span of the Ponte D.Luís and, finally, by the elegant arch of the Arrábida road-crossing, towards Foz in western Oporto. Part of a seventh bridge survives, for just downstream of the D. Luís are the partial remains of the two columns which supported the Ponte Pensil, the slender suspension bridge which preceded the 1886 D. Luís structure.

Ponte Dona Maria Pia

Forerunner in appearance to the iconic Ponte Dom Luís, but a single decker bridge for carrying the rail line out of Campanhã station to Gaia. It was built by Eiffel in 1876-77 and lies 1640 feet upstream from the Dom Luís structure. It was taken out of use in the 1990s and replaced by the Ponte de S. João. It is seen, above, looking west, in 2001.

Ponte Dom Luís

Erected in 1881-66 by the Société Belge de Willebroeck to plans by Théophile Seyrig, a former assistant to Eiffel. This is a double-decker road/Metro bridge connecting Oporto with Vila Nova de Gaia. Its span is 558ft and it is 223ft high with a 26ft wide roadway which for many years carried single-file, two-way traffic on both levels. Pedestrians could freely cross both the upper and lower levels on narrow pavements. Until the 1990s the top deck also carried trolley buses. After extensive works and installation of catenary, the upper deck started to carry the new Oporto Metro services across the Douro to Gaia in 2005, whilst the lower level remains a road traffic bridge. You can walk across both levels of the bridge.

Ponte de Arrábida

This was the largest concrete arch bridge in the world when opened in 1963 but by 2003 was only the eighth longest. It lies downriver from the city centre, just beyond the Massarelos tram museum, towards Foz. It carries the toll-road towards Aveiro and Coimbra across a span of 272 metres. From October 2016 you could climb steps along the concrete bridge supports (with handrails!), at 65 metres above the river and just below the road level, for 9.50 euros (three euros more at weekends).

Ponte S. João.

This is a modern railway bridge (1991) which comprises a slender concrete 250 metre span. It replaced the D. Maria Pia structure (in the background, above) as a link to Gaia from Campanhã station. It is currently the seventh longest prestressed concrete bridge in the world.

Ponte do Freixo

This is a motorway road bridge, opened in September 1995, conveying traffic from Oporto on the P1 motorway to the south of the country. The bridge has two carriageways each of four lanes, separated by a 0.10 metres gap. It is seen, above, from a train approaching Campanhã station, with a wild fire burning in the distance, 2011.

Ponte Infante Dom Henrique

This is a new pre-stressed concrete high-level road bridge which was built across the stretch of river between the Ponte Dona Maria Pia and the Ponte Dom Luís. It was built to compensate for the the loss of the upper level of the Ponte D. Luís to the Metro. It can be seen in the background of the above pictures of the D. Maria Pia and S. João bridges. Its total length will be 371 metres with a central span of 280 metres which is the world's longest reinforced concrete arch. It has a total length of 371 metres. The two sides of the bridge span were joined on 21 June 2002 and the cost was estimated at 14 million Euros (£9.5M). Behind it in the photo are the D.Maria Pia and D.João bridges.

Ponte Pensil

Above: The Ponte Pensil, which stood just downstream from the current site of the Ponte D. Luís

On the Oporto side of the river the pillars remain which formerly supported the Ponte Pensil. This was operative from 1843-87 and was superseded by the Ponte D. Luís. Construction began in 1841 and opened as a toll-bridge in February 1843. It was taken out of use in 1887. It was 150 metres long and 6 metres wide.

More Information

There is an excellent Portuguese website on "As Pontes do Porto" (The Bridges of Oporto) by the late Professor Manuel de Azeredo, here..

Some other excellent sites are:

  • Amen
  • Porto XXI
  • Olhares

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