The San Michele Bridge

The San Michele Bridge sull’Adda

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The San Michele Bridge

Also known as the Paderno bridge, it was built between 1887 and 1889 to connect the economic sector of Milan and Bergamo, divided by the river Adda.

Its designer was the Swiss engineer Jules Rothlisberger who was just over 30 at the time. Many had come forward to get that job, but in the end who managed to win, also thanks to a daring and unscrupulous project that involved building a bridge over a single span, was Rothlisberger. The technical data say that the bridge is 266 meters long and that it is located at a height of 85 meters from the height of the river. It has an arched structure, made entirely with beams nailed with two levels of practicability, above the cars, under the trains.

From a historical engineering point of view, the bridge is a masterpiece of Italian industrial archeology, as well as one of the most remarkable structures created by nineteenth-century engineering and for some it is comparable to the Eiffel Tower, built in the same years. Both structures, at the time of their construction, became the symbol of the industrial triumph for the respective countries. At the time of its construction, the San Michele bridge had few rivals: it had the largest arc in the world and was the fifth in total by size.

Looking at it, the comparison with the Eiffel tower is immediate, and indeed the two buildings share both the age of construction and the technique. Both are composed of nailed beams. Legend has it that he would have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge a few days before testing, for fear that something might go wrong. In fact, he died at his home because of pneumonia more than 20 years after the inauguration.

Despite being a bit battered, it does not stop the path for the UNESCO recognition of the San Michele Bridge which is included in the Transnational Appointment of the great 19th century arched bridges for the UNESCO heritage list.

The cycle path

To better enjoy the bridge and the natural context in which it is inserted, we recommend taking the cycle path that runs along the Bergamo side of the Adda river. Passing under the eastern pillar of the Paderno Bridge you will have a view of the incredible arch. The atmosphere is particular: on the one hand you feel immersed in nature through those naturalistic views that also inspired Leonardo da Vinci, on the other you are in contact with a prodigy of the architecture of a century ago.

Continuing the walk on the towpath, it is possible to admire the first work of excavating the wall of the gorge that they built to insert the bridge’s pylon. This, due to a change in the project, was then built a few hundred meters further upstream, so today one can still see the impressive cut in the living rock, so spectacular that today it has become a popular wall for sport climbing.

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