90. Alcantara, Toledo

I half promised South Bridge Edinburgh this month but my head was turned by a visit to Spain for a workshop organised by UIC. I made use of my new freedom to stay over the weekend. What is there in Madrid that I must see? Go to Toledo they said, it’s only 30 mins on the high speed train and the bridge Alcantara is wonderful.

I had no idea there were two Alcantaras. al-QanTarah (القنطرة) meaning "the bridge" says WIKI, which explains that. Many more then I guess but these both cross the Tagus. The other is more famous, possibly for good reason but this was well worth a visit.

So I caught the train and nearly didn’t penetrate beyond the station.


What a magnificent thing and so many details to explore and record but on we go. Walk along the road to town and you come upon this around a bend.


Well, I hadn’t had time to read up about it so that was a magnificent surprise. It’s Roman, they said which is not quite true. It’s been rebuilt at least twice that you can see from here. The nature of the masonry changes not far above the water and again at about mid-height.


In fact looking at this, there is another change at the level of the dark stripe coming in from the right. And while we are here, I have yet to come across an actual Roman bridge with a downstream cutwater.


There was a path down to the waters edge so I could see the whole. Wouldn’t we expect an arch on the left as well? It is believed that went in the Moorish reconstruction around the 10th Century and there is a record of a rebuild under Alfonso X which means 1252-1284.

I was puzzled by what looked like dark lumps on the intrados from a distance but the amazing zoom on my Sony HX90 revealed them to be martins' nests.


Looking from here there is a row of large holes, presumably where the centres were supported, though there is no possibility that this was spanned in timber. One course above that the stonework changes so we might imagine the bridge has been down to that level at some stage. Then there is a higher run of holes and another modest change. Just above that there seems to be a substantial flat in the arch. The top of the flat coincides with the change in masonry of the spandrel walls. There is then another flat culminating in a slight point at (or near) the crown. This picture has got out of order in my collection. It is taken from half way up the hill to the city, so I have crossed the bridge. This is the upstream side. There are two pilasters above but no major buttress and refuge. Surely a post rebuild condition.


This is a closeup of the sockets for the centering on the City side. Where did that white stone come from I wonder?


On the city side there is a buttress downstream as well. The various support holes look more regular too but what is that overhanging step? It’s not as though (even in repair) they could build up over the top and down to here from the other side so it cannot surely be a setting out error.


Looking across the river there is a gate on the bridge and another in the wall beyond. The latter of Moorish shape. The former is a definite rebuild but where was the stone quarried? Fairly locally I think.


Because a good deal of it carries Roman inscriptions.


The “new” gate, the paving and parapets are all of later construction. This system of brick tile frames filled in with stone masonry is common to the whole region. Notice, though that the inner arch turns in beyond the vertical.

And because we are playing catchup, I think that is enough for today. Back on track soon. I am beginning to look forward to number 100 and wondering how best to celebrate.