Il Ponte delle Catene (the Bridge of Chains), an historical jewel set in the Lima valley
On the road towards Bagni di Lucca, 200 metres after the train station in Fornoli, you can’t miss an imposing structure made up of two perfectly identical triumphal arches, which span the Lima torrent. It is the Ponte delle Catene, The Bridge of chains.
It’s not as renowned as it should be, given that it’s one of the first suspension bridges built in Italy and one of the oldest existing iron bridges in Western Europe.
Bagni di Lucca: from a spa resort to the destination of the European aristocracy
Its construction dates back to 1850s, when Carlo Ludovico of Borbone, Duke of Lucca, gave the commission to the illustrious architect Lorenzo Nottolini, who also designed other famous works like the aqueduct from Lucca to Pisa. At that time Bagni di Lucca was at the height of its splendour, mainly due to the hot springs which had made the town an important resort for the upper classes to come and “take the waters” for health purposes or just to relax.
So Carlo Ludovico decided to transform the spa town into one of the most fashionable and desirable resorts for European aristocrats: in order to reach this goal he commissioned the building of what is believed to be the oldest casino in Europe and also a bridge to facilitate the arrival of the illustrious guests. But not any old bridge would do: so he sent Nottolini to England to study the impressive newfangled suspension bridges over the Thames, in order to recreate something similar that would have a great impact on the visitors.
It was completed finally completed on the brink of the Italian Unification in 1860, after many bureaucratic problems had stalled the project.
The Bridge of Chains: an innovative and futuristic technological solution
The bridge takes its name from the mighty wrought- iron chains with large links which, connected to two arch-shaped pillars on either side and assisted by a complex underground system which keeps them in tension, allow the bridge to stay suspended without the assistance of ground pillars. The structure is at the same time imposing and elegant, with a variety of neoclassical decorative elements.
The deck, about 50 meters long, is made up of wooden planks. The most fascinating aspect of the bridge, however, has to be the shape of the two suspension towers, which evoke the triumphal arches of Ancient Rome (and Napoleonic arches), combined with the modernity of the building technique.
Indeed its design was , for that time, an innovative and futuristic technological solution. Other similar bridges were built in this period, following the classical design principles of the time: an example is the renowned Bridge of Chains in Budapest. In Italy a similar bridge was built by Granduca Leopoldo in Poggio a Caiano, but only a few remains exist now.
Towards the end of the Second World War the retreating Germans mined and severely damaged the bridge but it was fortunately rebuilt a few years later, in accordance with Nottolini’s original plans.
In 1999 it was placed on the World Monument Fund list of the 100 globally-significant sites to be saved and, thanks to the money raised by the Fund, in 2006 the bridge underwent extensive restoration work to return the monument to its previous glory.
A stop in the Val di Lima
If you are traveling in this area it is well worth making a stop: crossing under the arches and walking along the bridge , set between the mountains of the Lima Valley, takes you back in time.
Turning your gaze to the water below (the bridge is not very high, so not a problem if you are scared of heights) you can admire the torrent below, with its wildlife of herons, egrets and other aquatic animals, flowing along the river bed and making its way towards to the Serchio river, which then reaches Monte Pisano further south.
Rafting under the Bridge of Chains
After walking above the crystal clear water, the best way to truly explore this area is on board an inflatable raft, transported by the gentle flow of the Lima and pass under the bridge where you can admire it from a different perspective and at the same time enjoy the wonderful surroundings of the the Lima Valley, a paradise for open air sports, like rafting.
This activity is organized by Aguaraja Rafting: a breathtaking experience which combines history and nature, adventure and fun, emotions and adrenaline. > www.montepisano.travel/rafting-in-toscana
Written by Marco M.