In the northern Spanish province of Bizkaia, more precisely above the river that separates the municipality of Portugalete and the municipality of Getxo in the Bilbao conurbation, stands a structure known in Spain as the Puente Colgante (“Hanging Bridge”).
It is not really a suspension bridge (at least not in the technical sense), but a levitation ferry, i.e. a high bridge carrying a suspension barque over the water.
It is the only such structure in Spain and only one of nine levitation ferries in the world that are still in operation today.
What is noticeable at first glance is the similarity between their steel construction and that of the Eiffel Tower. Something not to be surprised about, the Basque architect Alberto Palacio, who built the high bridge together with the engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, was a student of Gustave Eiffel.
The particular difficulty with this contract was that Palacio had to create a structure that neither hindered shipping traffic nor, due to the limited space available in the city, had long ramps for access and departure.
He elegantly solved the problem with a steel construction consisting of 45-metre-high steel lattice towers on both banks with a 160-metre-long horizontal supporting scaffold stretched between them, on which the transport barque is suspended and which is stabilised by wire ropes.
Thus the levitation ferry was completed and opened in 1893 and subsequently became a model for about 20 similar installations in Europe, Africa and America.
For the more courageous, there is a footpath in the upper part of the high bridge, which can be reached via an elevator and on which the river can be crossed on foot.
The horizontal connection was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and the towers were also damaged.
Unfortunately, Alberto Palacio was not spared this sight and he should not experience the reconstruction and the re-commissioning of his building any more.
In 2006 the “Puente Colgante” was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
“With the development of a hanging transport mechanism and the constructive connection of the steel structure with the new wire rope technology, a new construction method was created with the Bay of Biscay bridge, which influenced the development of the bridge construction in the following three decades world-wide and contributed to the export of French and Spanish technology.”