Devil's Bridges of Medieval Europe: Where Architecture, Civil Engineering, And Satan All Come Together
The bridge Ponte della Maddalena, Bridge of Mary Magdalene, also Ponte del Diavolo or Bridge of the devil, is crossing the river Serchio. Source: (Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Europe is positively riddled with unique, gravity-defying, old stone bridges. If that weren't interesting enough, many of them have weird, Satan-y legends behind them. In nearly all of these tales, the bridge builder, overcome by the obstacles of constructing a bridge under such challenging conditions, makes a deal with the devil, who apparently has a degree in civil engineering. These bridges have become known as Devil's Bridges.
The Devil was a Prolific Bridge Builder
There are so many bridges in Europe with links to the devil that one would think the demon spent the majority of his time building bridges. In reality, the bridges are a testament to the engineering and construction ability of the builders of antiquity. They faced unique challenges that made building conventional bridges impossible, so really, it's kind of a slap in the face that people credit their impressive appearance and design to supernatural assistance.
The Devil Demands Payment
All of the legends that claim the devil helped to build bridges have a common thread in that the devil's services don't come cheap. In some stories, he demands the soul of the original bridge builder, but in most of them, the devil asks for the soul of the first person to cross the completed bridge. It doesn't seem like those would be the bridge builder's to give, but it doesn't matter, because in the bulk of these stories, the devil is tricked. In at least one story, the devil demanded the soul of the bridge builder upon completion of the project, so the builder purposely left out one stone, leaving the bridge incomplete. In others, a dog is sent across the bridge first, frustrating the devil even though a dog's soul is surely worth more than a human's.
Many of Europe's Devil's Bridges are still standing today, still as awe-inspiring as they were when they were constructed. One of them is the Rakotzbrucke Bridge in Gablenz, Germany. Built in 1860, the narrow arch of stone was designed so that a perfect circle would be reflected in the water below.
Three Bridges Stacked Together
In Wales, the Devil's Bridge of Ceredigion is actually three bridges that seem to be stacked on top of each other. The bottom bridge is the oldest one, dating back to 1075. The middle bridge was built in 1753, and the top one was constructed in 1902. All three of the bridges, which are accessible by a set of stairs, span a deep gorge that, according to local legend, was too steep and dangerous for humans to build, which is why the devil was called in to do the job.
The Unfinished Bridge
Construction on the Pont Valentre bridge in France began in 1308, but it took 70 years to complete. At some point, the devil was called in for backup, and according to the story, he asked for the builder's soul as his payment for the task. The builder agreed to relinquish his soul to the devil when the bridge was completed. When it came time to mix the last batch of mortar for the final touches of the bridge, however, the builder gave the devil a sieve instead of a bowl, to ensure that the bridge would not see completion.
The Devil Tried to Destroy His Own Bridge
Switzerland's Teufelsbrucke Bridge spans the raging Reuss River in the Schöllenen Gorge, a treacherous passage. In the 13th century, the devil was asked to build a bridge over the fast-moving water, and as usual, he asked for the soul of the first crosser as his payment. The people of the nearby village sent a goat across the bridge first, throwing the devil into such a hissy fit that he vowed to destroy the bridge. He picked up a large boulder and started to hurl it toward the bridge, but just then, an elderly woman from the town confronted the devil with her cross. The devil fled but dropped the boulder, which can be seen nearby.
The Devil's Footprint
In Bulgaria, the Devil's Bridge of Ardino is a stunning stone bridge over the Ardo River. According to local legend, the devil was the architect of the bridge, and during its construction, he often walked back and forth on the stones. It is said that the devil left a footprint on one of the stones of the bridge, but that it is only visible in low light. People living nearby are still superstitious about crossing the bridge at night, but to be fair, it's probably just not very safe. What idiot decided to build a bridge that slants upward? Oh. Right.
Tags: medieval europe
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