|What mistakes did Marco Polo make? The bridge is constructed of white granite, not marble. Rather than 24 arches, there are eleven. The bridge was widened in 1969, and even now it would be hard to have eight horses in livery walk abreast across it. He can be forgiven. He wrote his description of his travels twenty years after he returned from the Far East. The bridge was huge for the time and certainly made a deep impression upon him.
It is said that his description of the bridge influenced bridge design in Europe. Stone arch bridges and aqueducts had been used by the Romans all over Europe, well before the birth of Christ, and were built with such skill that many still stand. So Marco Polo's description of Lugouqiao did not introduce the arched bridge to Europe.
The Chinese innovation in arched bridges was made during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) by Li Chun, who designed a bridge in Hebei Province called the Zhaozhou Bridge. He flattened the arc of the bridge to increase the span. The Lugou Qiao did not use that design; it is a standard semi-circular arch bridge. Polo wrote his Travels in about 1299, but did not describe the Li Chun bridge. The first European long span segmented arch bridge was built fifty years later, in 1345, in Florence.
Last update: October 2009
© Marilyn Shea, 2009