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Amazing timber arch bridges in Fujian province

Updated: 2015-01-12
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Still standing today and very much in use, the arched wooden bridges built in China nearly 1,000 years ago demonstrate the true skill of the master craftsmen who first constructed them.

These stunning structures show how not every part of China has been altered by its rapid rate of development.

The bridges, suspended between two banks of lush greenery and built from the wood of the trees surrounding them, are still a fully functional part of life in Fujian province along China's south east coast.

Of the 100 woven arched timber 'lounge bridges' in China, 19 of them are in the Shouning County of Fujian Province alone - including the Luanfeng (鸾凤桥) and Yangmeizhou bridges (杨梅洲桥) in the village of Xiadang.

 

The arch span of Luanfeng Bridge reaches 37.2 m, which is the largest one of this kind in China.

 

Luanfeng Bridge

 

Yangmeizhou Bridge

 

Yangmeizhou Bridge

 

The Qiancheng bridge (千乘桥) meanwhile, in the Tangkou village in Fuzhou, is even older, having been built during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279 AD). This bridge, which is an impressive 62.7 metres long and 4.9 metres wide, has been rebuilt several times, but remains an iconic image of ancient Chinese construction methods.

Both of the bridges have been listed as key cultural relics, and included on UNESCO's National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The significance of this heritage grows ever higher in the face of sweeping urbanisation.

 

The Qiancheng bridge (千乘桥) is an impressive 62.7 metres long and 4.9 metres wide, has been rebuilt several times, but remains an iconic image of ancient Chinese construction methods.

 

Qiancheng Bridge

 

The building of such bridges relies on highly skilled craftsmanship, with a woodworking master directing the carpentry of a team of woodworkers. They are built entirely by hand using techniques such as 'beam-weaving', which sees three rows of wood formed into an arch-supporting system while in the upper layer five shorter rows of wood are jointed and intertwined with upper-arch supports using mortise and tenon joints. Wood that then connects the whole bridge is placed at the joints between the ends so the bridge becomes a solid whole.
Traditional tools such as Lu Ban rulers, sawhorses, axes and chisels were used in the construction of the bridges.

The woodworking masters design the bridges with a range of arches depending on the surroundings, while the passageways can be of various styles, depending on the use of the bridge.

This craftsmanship has been passed on down the years, from one generation to another by masters teaching apprentices or relatives within a clan following strict procedures. The clans then play a vital role in the building, maintenance and protection of the bridges.

The historical bridges also play an important role within the cultural life of the areas they have been built in, providing meeting places for residents to exchange information, worship and entertain.

Pingnan was once home to more than 100 of these distinctive wooden bridges, the oldest of which was first built in the Song Dynasty (屏南廊桥). Other bridges in the town were first built in the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Today's wooden arcade bridges have been rebuilt or repaired many times. According to records in the old county annals, Wan'an, Qiancheng, Longjing, Baixiang and Guangli bridges were first built in the Song Dynasty; Guangfu Bridge was first built in the Yuan Dynasty; and Longjin, Jinzhao, Qingyan, Huifeng, Xili, Zhangkou and Yingfeng bridges were first built in the Ming and Qing dynasties.

 

The Wan'an Bridge was built in 1090, refaced in 1708 and rebuilt in 1845, 1932 and 1953 respectively. The bridge has six spans with a total length of 97.4m and 4.7m wide.

 

Stunning Jinzao Bridge

 

The wooden arcade bridges in Pingnan basically each adopt the same wooden arch structure, in which 61 round cedar longitudinal beams and 10 transverse beams are connected with mortises and tenons to form a splayed bridge arch. Eight beams constitute four "X"-shape scissor forks to prevent the bridge arch from swaying left and right, rods are inserted into the arch to form the arch support, and planks are transversely paved on the support to form the bridge deck.

A bridge house, adopting a column and tie construction containing 4 columns and 9 purlins, is built on the bridge deck, and has a double-slope roof or an overhanging gable roof. The whole bridge doesn't have a single nail and is joined together with inlaying of purlins and rafters. The structure is stable. The bottom is arced and the deck is flat. The architectural skills behind the building of the bridge are original and smart and reflect the intelligence and craftsmanship of the Chinese ancient bridge builders. These unique buildings, half-bridges half-houses resemble Bianshuihong Bridge in the painting "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival" created by Zhang Zeduan in the Song Dynasty.

However, the arcade bridges substituted Bianshuihong's tying structure with a mortise and tenon structure, representing a vast improvement to the bridge building technology. Moreover, they also introduced the bridge houses. In the middle of a bridge house, there is a corridor-type passageway more than 2 metres wide. On either sides there are fixed long wooden stools. The building date and the names of donors, bridge building directors, and bridge builders are recorded on the beams of the bridge houses. On some bridges, very interesting and well-worded couplets can be found, too.

 

SOURCE: WOX Travel

 

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