The world's top ten most spectacular bridges to cross in your lifetime

Let's forget the famous four - San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, London's Tower Bridge, New York's Brooklyn Bridge and the old Australian "coat hanger" itself, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Let's also rule out out those bridges admired simply because they are the longest, the highest, the widest or the flimsiest (yes, I know: that's unfair to China and the other Asian countries which seem to have a new record holder every other week).

My list is purely based on aesthetics, sense of occasion, the wow factor, and a touch of romance.

It's been a ruthless process. Bridges - perhaps more than any other human construction other than a school - symbolise hope, connection, reaching out to other communities, commitment to the future.

But this process has been so ruthless, in fact, that my own all-time favourite, Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, didn't even make the cut. Nor did the Bridge over the River Kwai or any of the Bridges of Madison County.

1. STARI MOST, MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

This historic bridge is not just a beautiful structure but a triumph of determination. 

On November 9, 1993, the 400-year-old bridge was deliberately destroyed by Croatian forces in the Bosnian War. 

Though it had no strategic importance in the war, it's said that 60 shells were aimed at it, presumably to crush the Bosnian spirit. 

Those who destroyed it would have known that it had been designed by Mimar Hayruddin and took nine years to build. The single span over such a steep ravine was considered revolutionary at the time.

Legend has it that on the day the wooden supports were removed in 1566, Hayruddin dug his own grave knowing the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire had sworn to have him executed if it collapsed.

Fortunately, after the Bosnian war, the world united - through UNESCO, the World Bank and similar organisations - to rebuild the bridge which was unveiled in 2004. Today, once again, brave locals dive off it into the river Neretva below.   

2. BOSPHORUS BRIDGE, ISTANBUL, TURKEY

The Galata Bridge, spanning Istanbul's Golden Horn, may be more famous but this deserves inclusion because it is the first bridge in the world to link two continents. 

Driving across the Bosphorus Bridge from the European side to the Asian side of the Bosphorus is still surprisingly thrilling, as I discovered a few months ago.

 It was opened in 1973, a day after Turkey celebrated its 50th anniversary as a republic and was at the time the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world (though it has slipped down the list since). 

Before that, for centuries, the only way of crossing the Bosphorus was by ferry - although the Persian Emperor Xerxes The Great ordered his fleet of wooden ships to form a temporary bridge across the nearby Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) around 480BC.

Each October, the bridge is closed for the Istanbul Eurasian marathon. A second bridge, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, was added in 1988.

3. PONTE VECCHIO, FLORENCE, ITALY

Famously, the Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge over the River Arno the retreating Nazis didn't destroy when they fled Florence in 1944. 

There has been a bridge here, at the narrowest part of the river, since Roman times, but the current "Old Bridge" dates back to 1345 when it was rebuilt after a flood. The Vasari corridor was built above the shops on the bridge by the architect Vasari on the orders of the Medici family who required a private route between the Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river. 

Since 1593 only goldsmiths and jewellers are allowed to have shops on the bridge.

4. KHAJU BRIDGE, ISFAHAN, IRAN

This incredibly beautiful multi-arched bridge over the Zayandeh River, built by a Persian Shah, looks even more spectacular at night when it is floodlit. 

It is also multi-functional, serving as a weir and a public meeting place as well as a bridge. Shah Abbass II had it constructed around 1650 on the foundations of an older bridge and he would often sit in its central pavilion admiring the water view. 

His construction has aroused the admiration of travellers ever since. Sluice gates under the archways regulate the water level on either side of the bridge, helping to irrigate fields upstream.

5. RIALTO BRIDGE, VENICE, ITALY

The most famous of the four bridges which cross Venice's Grand Canal, the Ponte di Rialto was built between 1588 and 1591 by the aptly named architect Antonio da Ponte. Reputedly, Michelangelo was also considered as a designer for the project. The bridge consists of two steep ramps, allowing the passage of gondolas and boats beneath. Critics said it would collapse, but it outlasted them to become an icon. 

Shops in the colonades have always been part of the bridge's great charm.

6. THE WIND AND RAIN BRIDGE, CHENGYANG, CHINA

The Chinese have built some of the most spectacular bridges of the last 25 years. But none is more memorable than the most famous of the "Wind and Rain" bridges that are found in Guangxi Province. The Chengyang version spans the Linxi River and is also called the Yongji Bridge or Panlong Bridge.

What is amazing about all these bridges - including this 65-metre-long structure - is no nails or rivets were used. 

Instead, the local Dong people dove-tailed every piece of wood. The five towers on the bridge are deliberately placed to provide shelter from the wind and rain - hence the name.

7. VICTORIA FALLS BRIDGE, ZIMBABWE/ZAMBIA

I'm a sucker for bridges which are also borders between countries. Years ago I cycled across this bridge over the mighty Zambezi River from Zimbabwe to the Zambian town of Livingstone just so I could utter those immortal words, "Livingstone, I presume?" as I ordered a meal.

On that same trip, I "flew" over the bridge and Africa's greatest waterfall (named by Livingstone) in a microlite.

The British imperialist Cecil Rhodes planned the bridge as part of his unfulfilled scheme to build an trans-African railway from Cape Town to Cairo, but he died before it was constructed.

Today, you can bungy jump off the bridge, or go white water rafting beneath it. Not quite what Rhodes had in mind, but the bridge survives.

8. HELIX BRIDGE, SINGAPORE

Yes, I know we ruled out the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but a least we get a mention in the pedestrian bridge linking the Marina areas of Singapore. It was designed by an international team made up of the Australian architects, Cox Group, the Swedish engineering firm Arup (which constructed much of the Sydney Opera House) and the Singapore firm, Architects 61.

It deliberately evokes echoes of human DNA, especially at night when the bridge is illuminated by a series of lights focusing on the letters c,g,a and t representing cytonsine, guanine, adenine and thymine - the four bases of DNA.

9. BRIDGE OF THE AMERICAS, PANAMA

This bridge doesn't connect two continents, or even two countries. It stretches from one side of the Panama Canal to the other, so reuniting North and South America. 

Puente de las Americas was originally know as the Thatcher Ferry Bridge (named after a male member of the canal commission, definitely not the former British Prime Minister). It was completed in 1962 at the Pacific entrance to the canal, the first non-swinging bridge across the canal and a key part of the Pan-American Highway.

10. CHARLES BRIDGE, PRAGUE OR CHAIN BRIDGE, BUDAPEST

Now this is a dilemma. Which of these two beautiful bridges to choose? They are so close you could easily drive between the two and visit both in one day.

According to legend, the bridge that spans the Vltava River  in modern day Prague was begun in 1347 during the reign of Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, who supposedly laid the first stone - hence its name.

Its 16 arches, shielded wisely by ice guards, is decorated with 30 18th-century baroque statues (though most are replicas now, with the originals in the National Museum).

Budapest's Chain Bridge, by contrast, is a much more recent construction - designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark and opened in 1849, the year after the Hungarian revolution.

It linked two separate settlements, historic Buda and modern Pest, and came to stand for progress and national awakening.

Take a look at the 10 bridges in the photo gallery above.

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