WALKING up the arch of the Arrábida bridge ✔️
That item was on the list for a long, long time...! It took me 3 years, many excited reports of visiting runners who had done it and one kind invitation to make up my mind and do it. All I can say I am really glad I did it!
Read on for some (fun) facts about the construction of this bridge and its project's designer, Edgar Cardoso, an inventive engineer way ahead of his time...! Bonus: a short video of the experience, the highest point of my week :)
one of Porto's top attractions
Porto has six different bridges you can run below. You can also run across half of them. However, only the Arrábida bridge - through Porto Bridge Climb - offers the experience of walking up its elegant reinforced concrete arch. Actually, it's the only one in Europe where you can do that - legally!
Sometimes, when a morning foggy haze rolls in from the sea or closer to sunset time, it looks like a painting's frame: the graceful white bridge is in fact more than just a way for people to drive across to work everyday, it is a stylish connector of two margins and looks great from any angle, from both cities, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. A perfect setting for a run no doubt, which we occasionally include in our bespoke running tour.
a SKEPTIC CROWD
In 1963, during one of the most critical stages of construction, the local people - and the international press - gathered on the riversides by the thousands. Most believed the structure would simply collapse, given the weight and span of its arch, a world record for the time. A disaster with a similar structure had happened a few years before in Sweden and that created a shadow of doubt over the whole project. Irrespective of that, Porto's Arrábida bridge is still looking sharp, more than 55years after its construction.
Above: A photo of the technical team of engineers taken in 1963 on the rooftop terrace of the project's office building, which still exists, located a mere 100meters from the bridge - presently a restaurant, Casa D'oro. The man in white is Edgar Cardoso, known for being the most successful Portuguese 'bridge engineer' and the responsible for the project.
THE INVENTIVE MIND OF EDGAR CARDOSO
Edgar Cardoso's (1913-2000) first work over the Douro river was the Arrábida bridge. Later he was also responsible for maintenance works on the Luiz I centenary iron bridge - there's a fun story to it, which we share during the iron bridges running tour - and, towards the end of his career, the man behind the S.João railway bridge, built in 1991.
Designing for this engineer was easy and intuitive. He would sketch or carve what he wanted, then do a scale model with his own hands, before any calculations were performed. He wanted to see, to feel how the structures he'd imagined would behave. There's a story of him having an 'eureka moment' regarding the shape of the S.João bridge's pillars: he had carved a carrot at home with a cardboard cutter. Next he showed up at the office and proudly handed it to his co-workers while explaining his idea. After proper testing and calculations, the initial carved carrot's shape was used for the existent pillars!
"The redistribution of forces in a complex structure with several elements is not done in those incredible matrices and systems of equations with 20 different variables. Nature does not do things in this way" he once said. Edgar Cardoso realized he could use his scale models to measure tensions and forces, only proceeding to calculations in a later stage.
To put it into practice, he made use of his training in electrotechnical engineering, inventing two electric devices for the necessary measurements and, to photograph every detail of the places where he meant to build a new bridge, he invented a 360-degree camera (in the 1960's!!), currently on display in a Museum of Resende, his birth town.
WALKING UP THE ARCH OF A NATIONAL MONUMENT
The words on the Porto Bridge Climb's homepage are indeed honest and accurate:
"(...) It is a unique opportunity to have access to a building that has been closed to the public for 53 years (despite some clandestine visits...).
Together with a guide and all the safety equipment, even those afraid of heights can climb one of the most iconic buildings in Porto. At the top, 65 meters above the river, a quiet and relaxing place to enjoy unique views... and a delicious surprise. Finally, the descent of the 262 steps reveals the size and elegance of this national monument."
If you think walking up the arch is a great idea, take a peek at their instagram and see some photos, including those of their special edition sunset and full moon visits to the bridge (our reccomendation!...) !!
Photo credits: Porto Bridge Climb (instagram account) #portobridgeclimb
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Sérgio is the founder of Porto Running Tours, a keen runner since 1999 and a friendly running tour guide-storyteller since 2015.
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