FOR A nation of 7, 107 islands, bridges are indispensable engineering and architectural marvels that link the country’s many rivers, chasms, and crevasses.

In Puentes de España en las Filipinas (UST Publishing House, 2011), architect and architecture historian Manuel Maximo Lopez del Castillo-Noche archives these various bridges that were constructed during the centuries of Spanish colonization.

According to the book, bridges present a historical panorama of how a necessity grown out of nature and ingenuity have developed a community.

The book is divided into three chapters. Chapter one provides a concise historical background of the pre-colonial bridges. Chapter two documents Spanish bridges across the country. Finally, the third part discusses the threats that these bridges are now facing in the light of ever-changing technology.

Bridges of the ‘Walled City’

Since the Spaniards made Intramuros the seat of government, as well as education and religious center, it was imperative that the nearby Pasig River be built with a bridge for convenient transport.

According to Noche, Puente Grande de España en Manila, erected between 1629 and 1630, was the first bridge to be built by Spanish authorities in the Philippines, and was the only bridge that crossed the Pasig River for more than two centuries. It connected the Plaza Arroceros-Intramuros to the south, to Plaza del Padre Moraga, or present-day Binondo.

This was followed by the Puente Colgante, which was commended as an engineering marvel for being the first suspension bridge in Southeast Asia. Completed in 1852, this toll bridge served as a link between the Walled City and Quiapo.

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Come 1875, the third bridge was built around Intramuros. The Puente de España was built to replace the Puente Grande. However in 1920, this bridge was replaced with Juan Arellano’s neoclassical Jones Bridge.

Five bridges were also built inside the city as links for moats. Puente de Fuerza Santiago was the most prominent as it served as an access point to Fuerza Santiago (Fort Santiago). Other bridges were the Puente de Puerto del Parian, Puente de Ravellin del Parian, Puente de la Puerta Real de Bagumbayan, and Puente Durmiente.

Ingenuity of rural bridges

Though not as sophisticated in terms of building technology, bridges in rural areas nevertheless exhibit unique constructions techniques.

The Puente de Barit in Laoag, Ilocos Norte is noted for its unique design: the bridge consisted of a series of small and narrow arches instead of a single monolithic arch, which was presumed to allow easier repair in case of major earthquakes. On the other hand, the Puente Dampol in Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, which was built in 1775, showcased the ingenuity of early builders, as the underbelly of the arch contains a structure made of sawali (woven bamboo mats), which were used to hold and set the wet plaster.

The Puente de Calle Governor William Howard Taft exhibits a more unconventional shape, the arch facing west follows a conventional segmented arch for, while the arch facing the east side is more truncated. Built in Bangued, Abra, the protective barrier of a bridge has a shape resembling scroll, with a bosom-like parapet at the center.

Although majority were destroyed or renovated, these bridges were considered catalyst in nation building and development, as well as mirrors of the past.

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Noche writes that although the functional aspects of these bridges are slowly disappearing, these artifacts of the past are a reflection of our country’s heritage.

However, due to the apathy of the modern Filipinos, these bridges are now just seen as “mere man-made structures constructed out of brick, stone, or wood… as if these legacies have no intrinsic value.”

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