The roadway on thick piers was intended to facilitate the transport of goods to and from a port
An example of China’s long tradition of building with natural stones is the Anping Bridge, about a 2-hour drive from Xiamen. Built in the 12th century during the old empire, it is just over 2 km long and runs dead straight through a body of water. It also documents China’s history as a trading nation: its construction greatly facilitated and cheapened transportation from the coast to the hinterland.
We visited the bridge at the invitation of the Chinese association CSMA together with a group of architects following the Xiamen Stone Fair 2023.
The structure impresses with its sheer mass of stone for the 361 piers and the roadway above. It is exclusively granite, so one cannot even imagine the effort required to loosen the raw material from the rock in the quarry and then cut it up.
The stone beams for the roadway are 5 to 11 m long. The heaviest one weighs about twenty-five t.
The construction work began in 1128 in the 8th Shaoxing reign in the Song Dynasty and was completed after 14 years, as it says on an information stele at the site.
Presumably, pontoon constructions and the water levels of high and low tide were used for building and transport of the building material.
Under the piers are driven into the ground building logs, on which the stone beams are alternately layered. There are 3 shapes for the piers: rectangular, canoe-shaped and in the shape of 2 canoes side by side.
The total length is 2255 m, which corresponded to about 5 Chinese miles. Therefore, one name of the structure is also Wu-Li Bridge or Wuli Bridge, which means five-mile bridge. On the Internet, 2700 m is also mentioned as the original length.
It was the longest structure in this construction in China for many centuries.
The width of the roadway is between 2.9 and 4 m. On the sides there is a boundary, also made of granite.
Formerly, 5 pavilions adorned the roadway. The Shuixin Pavilion at one endpoint is preserved.
Following the endpoints of the bridge on both sides, one finds pagodas with Buddha figures.
The bridge has been rebuilt 10 times since its completion in 1152, the last time in 1985, and is now on the List of Major National Historical and Cultural Sites of China.
The reason for the construction of the bridge is difficult to imagine today: Formerly, the sea bay (today: Anhei Bay) with the mouth of the Shijing River interrupted the connection of the two cities Shuitou and Anhei (then: Anping). A map shows the location nowadays:
We speculate: Presumably, the water area was formerly much wider, so that bypasses by land would have been too far.
On the other hand, it is certain that the bay was not navigable then either, and in the meantime large parts of it have silted up and fallen dry. Today, large parts of the bay are used for shrimp farms.
Parks have since sprung up on both sides of the waterfront.
To support maritime commerce, the Quanzhou city government, citizens, merchants, and religious groups came together to fund the project, according to one of the information stelae.
The stone for the construction was probably obtained at a reasonable cost. The province of Fujian, where Shuitou and Xiamen are located, is still a center of China’s stone mining industry. The city of Guanzhou, next door in Guangong Province, also plays an important role in the stone industry today.
(16.10.2023, USA: 10.16.2023)