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This well-known bridge can mean different things to different people. For those visiting from other countries it is one of the most distinctive symbols of Lisbon. For the city’s citizens however it is synonymous with heavy traffic and long tailbacks.
If we go back a little and look at its history, we will see that the “Ponte 25 de Abril”, as the bridge is known in Portuguese, was completed in 1966 after only four years of building work. However, almost a century before in 1876 the idea to construct a bridge connecting the two sides of the Tajo was conceived. The intention was to create an easy way for traffic to travel between the city of Lisbon and localities on the other bank, like Almada and Cacilhas.
The debate over where to actually position the bridge on the two sides of the river went on for years. Among the various engineering plans presented was one suggesting to build it between the area of Rocha Conde de Óbidos and Almada, another between Beato and Montijo, and another between the area of Chiado and Almada. With so many different ideas involved, it was impossible to agree upon any of the options presented by the German, French and Portuguese engineers.
In the middle of the 20th century the need for rail and road infrastructure between Lisbon and the Tajo’s southern bank became evident. So an international contest was devised to produce new plans for the construction of a bridge. An American company won and built what today unites the river’s two sides in just four years, between 1962 and 1966.
These were the years of the Salazar dictatorship and the bridge’s opening came with the pomp and fanfare associated with his regime. The bridge was officially given the name “Ponte Salazar” (Salazar Bridge), in honour of the dictator that ordered its construction.
However, after the peaceful Carnation Revolution in 1974, when democracy returned to Portugal, the bridge was given its current title which corresponds with the date of the revolution itself: “Ponte 25 de Abril”.
It was not until the end of the 1990’s that today’s bridge was fully completed. Up until then it only gave road access to vehicles crossing the river. It was then decided to add a rail line several metres below which now allows trains to use it too. The bridge is built of steel and measures a little over two kilometres in length. It rises more than seventy metres above the river while its main towers stand at two hundred metres. All of which makes it one of Portugal’s highest buildings.
Curiously, the climber Alain Robert, otherwise known as the French Spiderman, recently scaled one of the bridge’s towers on the 41st anniversary of its construction. On coming down again he was promptly arrested.
The bridge reminds some of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and whether you see it from afar or from inside while sitting in a traffic jam, you will be sure to marvel at this great structure.
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