The history of Belgrade’s bridges (Part 1)
”Of everything that man erects and builds in his urge for living nothing is in my eyes better and more valuable than bridges. They are more important than houses, more sacred than shrines. Belonging to everyone and being equal to everyone, useful, always built with a sense, on the spot where most human needs are crossing, they are more durable than other buildings and they do not serve for anything secret or bad.”
Throughout human history bridges have been an irreplaceable part of a city’s infrastructure, but apart from their practical purpose, they are also a symbol of communication and union. They all carry an abundance of stories, untold histories of empires, countries, and people whose lives are entwined with them.
The mare fact that Belgrade is situated at the confluence of two great rivers is both an advantage and a huge burden. Precisely because of that conflicting fact our Capital has such a turbulent past.
Due to its geographical position and importance in trade and politics Belgrade’s need for a bridge dates all the way back to the Byzantine era. Many pontoon bridges were built across the Sava river but the first significant structure of the kind is the Long Bridge. Constructed by the grandmaster Đorđević in 1688, it was used by the Austro-Hungarians to cross the River and enter the City.
But let's get to know the ones adorning our City today
Let's start with the oldest official bridge:
On 20th August 1884, the first official bridge to connect the two banks of the river Sava was opened for traffic. The Railway bridge was the first bridge to connect Serbia to the rest of Europe, as back in the day, the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia was the River itself.
Only half of the bridge belonged to Serbia, and the first train to depart across the bridge did so on September 1st, 1884 with some of the most important figures of the time (King Milan, Queen Natalie, and the Crown Prince Alexander- on the Serbian side).
During its history, it was demolished 3 times. The first 2 times, the bridge was demolished by the Serbian army in an attempt to prevent the enemy forces from entering the City in the two World Wars. Both times due to carelessness it just so happened that in the time of the demolition, boats were crossing under it, and as a result, many lives were taken down to the river’s bottom. It was first reconstructed by the Natzi army and right next to it another bridge was built. Both were, once again, demolished during the retreat of the Germans after the war.
The bridge standing today was rebuilt as a part of the Belgrade’s reconstruction program after the II World War with a fun story to follow it to this day. Ever since the reconstruction, it has never been given a new coat of paint. Apparently, the reason behind that is that the draftsman forgot to count in the weight of paint into the construction. A bridge of that size would need at least a ton of paint to cover it, meaning the added weight would make a safe crossing quite risqué and borderline dangerous. Some believe that this was somehow the Germans’ “hidden revenge”, nevertheless this bridge still stands and is in use to this day.