AFTER his renowned researches on colonial train stations and lighthouses, UST Architecture professor Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo Noche continues his heritage scholarship with his next stopover: colonial bridges.

“One of the most unusual Spanish-built infrastructures that do not really beam into the radar of most people are bridges,” Noche told the Varsitarian. “Bridges are integral in communication and in transportation of people and goods although their existence are taken for granted.”

Noche added that under the Spanish rule, bridges played a vital role in the country’s history. Battles were fought on bridges such as the Battle of San Juan Del Monte Bridge, the Battle of Zapote Bridge, and the Battle of Pansipit Bridge in Taal, Batangas.

Bridges in Batanes were built by Dominican friars to facilitate evangelization and community building. Commerce in Manila prospered because of the bridges that traversed the mighty river of Pasig.

“A lot of people are not aware that these bridges are still there,” Noche said.

At present, a good number of these bridges are still functional, but some are derelict and others have already been demolished, mainly due to inevitable modernization. And before they become “history,” Noche, being a self-confessed heritage aficionado, was given a Spanish grant to document and do research on Spanish colonial bridges. The grant was funded by the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation and the UST Center for Intercultural Studies.

Graduating from the old UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1986, Noche pursued a postgraduate degree at the Bartlett School of Architecture Planning and Engineering at the University College London in 1990, Noche considers himself a professional academic who teaches and researches full-time.

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Still standing

From foot bridges to land-transport bridges, these structures were built by the Spanish with attention to design and durability as attested by their centuries-old resilience. Most of the bridges in fact are still in use all over the country.

“They are a lot stronger than present-day bridges,” Noche said. “Masonry-wise, the stones placed on top of each other supported by lateral and external forces allow sheer weight to be controlled by the keystone, making colonial bridges a very stable construction.”

The Puente de Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, built during the 19th century, is made entirely of bricks. The bridge is still able to withstand the weight of the passing buses and trucks.

“The only setback to these old bridges is their width,” Noche continued. “Many colonial bridges are narrow and can only accommodate pedestrians and bull-carts.”

Modern times call for wider road, that is why old bridges are being discarded for new ones. Oddly though, some new bridges still use old construction methods, mainly because of their tested efficiency and endurance.

Having covered much of Luzon and parts of the Visayas, Noche exclaimed how difficult it is to identify Spanish colonial bridges as one needs to read the road, more than anything else. While houses are studied from the ground up, bridges are scrutinized from the ground down. The narrowing of the road and some telltale signs are clues to identifying these bridges.

Additional challenges are the retrofitted bridges, in which case the Department of Public Works and Highways expands the upper part of the bridge by putting a new road deck above the old one, making it hard to discern the original structure.

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In line with the Philippine Heritage Month this May, the Filipino Heritage Festival is featuring Noche’s photographic researches on Philippine bridges in an exhibit at Glorietta, Makati City.

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