One of the first signs that an ancient civilization was moving up in the world was the building of roads and bridges. History’s first architects relied on the material nearby to help their communities get from point A to point B. Though the vast majority of these efforts have since fallen into disrepair or been completely destroyed, a select few have not only managed to stand the test of time, they’ve remained lovingly maintained and actively used by thousands of people. If you ever need some proof of the power of human innovation, just check out these ancient bridges that are still in use today.
1. Caravan Bridge, Turkey
Meet the Caravan Bridge in Izmir, Turkey. The simple bridge that spans the river Meles, the Caravan Bridge was finished in 850 BC and has remained in continuous use ever since. That makes this little bridge almost 3,000 years old, a record that qualified it as both the oldest standing bridge in the world — it actually has a Guinness World Record — as well as one of the oldest man-made structures still in use today.
2. Arkadiko Bridge, Greece
Though the exact date of the Arkadiko Bridge’s creation is unknown, scholars estimate that this old school arch bridge was opened in 1190 BC at the earliest. The sturdy little arch bridge is still used by the locals every day. It stands as one of the oldest arch bridges in the world.
3. Khaju Bridge, Iran
Iran’s Khaju Bridge was 17th century’s architectural Swiss Army knife. First opened in 1650 by Persian Safavid king, Shah Abbas II, the splendid Khaju Bridge served as a makeshift dam as well as a popular public meeting place in addition to, you know, going over the water. A popular teahouse once sat on the bridge, complete with a pavilion in the center with a seat for the king.
4. Pons Fabricius, Rome
Originally completed in 62 BCE (that’d be 2,079 years ago), the Pons Fabricius is the oldest Roman bridge in Rome. It has gone largely unchanged over the course of its two millennia in existence. What’s more, the Pons Fabricius is still used every day by thousands of Romans and tourists.
5. Severan Bridge, Turkey
At nearly 400 feet in length, the Severan Bridge in southeastern Turkey is considered one of the longest surviving Roman bridges. Not only that, but the Severan Bridge worked as an active bridge from the time it was completed in 200 CE until 1997, when it was converted into a tourist trap. In other words, this bridge accommodated not only foot traffic but vehicular traffic for almost a century after it was already more than 1500 years old.
6. Anji Bridge, China
The Anji Bridge was first opened in 605 CE after ten years of construction, making it the oldest working bridge in China. Anji is also the oldest example of an open-spandrel segmental arch bridge. What is perhaps most interesting is that bridge’s architect, a cocky gentleman by the name of Li Chun, was so confident in his design that he put it right in the name. Anji Bridge literally translates to “safe crossing bridge”.
7. The Keshwa Chaca, Peru
If you’re looking for a case wherein a civilization made an incredible amount from impossibly scant resources, then the Incan Empire is your guy. In their stomping ground high in the Andes, pretty much the only thing that grows is a fibrous species of tall grass. The ingenious Inca, however, managed to create some impressive ancient products. One of their most impressive achievements, however, were there grass bridges. While most are gone today, the keshwa chaca near Huinchiri, Peru is still holding strong thanks to annual communal rebuilding efforts. The 500-year-old bridge (at least) spans a 90-foot expanse across a steep gorge.
8. The Bridge of Sighs, Yemen
Also known as Shahara Bridge, this intimidating stone bridge spans a 650-foot-deep canyon between two mountaintops in Yemen, Jabal al Emir and Jabal al Faish. The original purpose of the bridge was to connect the town of Shahara with a neighboring village without having to descend and climb down a mountain twice. It was also intended as a means of defense, since it’s supposedly easily destroyed at a moment’s notice. You know, just in case the Turks get feisty.
9. Ponte Di Rialto, Italy
When the government first solicited designers for the Ponte di Rialto in 1551, it was considered a pretty big deal. One of only four crossings of the Grand Canal, the bridge would expedite traffic to the city’s important Rialto Market. As a result, some big names offered to design the bridge. Premier Italian architect Andrea Palladio applied, as did iconic painter Michaelangelo. The job eventually went to Antonio da Ponte, a man whose previous contribution to Italian architecture was a Palace that burned down. Fortunately, he put some great effort into this stone bridge which was eventually completed in 1591 and stands to this day.
10. Ponte Vecchio, Italy
The current iteration of the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge, is the third version built since it was originally crafted in 996 CE. Over the course of the next millennium, the bridge was washed away by flood waters twice: once in 1117 and again in 1333. The one built in 1345 is the one that people still walk across today, which means that even if the Ponte Vecchio isn’t the original, it’s still more than 600 years old.
11. Tarr Steps
A medieval clapper bridge whose origins have been hotly debated, the Tarr Steps were supposedly constructed in one of three scenarios. First, it was built during the Bronze Age by semi-humans who hefted the 2-ton slabs across the water. Second, it was built in the medieval 1400s. Or, third, and easily the one that I most want to be true, the Devil built the Tarr Steps because he wanted a place to catch some sun. Whatever the origins of the Tarr Steps, they’re at least 600 years old and a feat of ancient engineering.