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The Bridges of London

Maggio 2014
Il cuore pulsante di Londra? I suoi ponti, che da secoli permettono alle persone di attraversare il Tamigi e ancora oggi lasciano a bocca aperta i turisti. E quest’anno il più famoso di tutti, Tower Bridge, compie 120 anni. Un’occasione unica per visitare i meccanismi sotterranei del ponte levatoio.

di Martin Simmonds

File audio:

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Adam Blackwell
Adam Blackwell

Until the first bridge was built across the River Thames 2,000 years ago, London did not exist. As the city grew, for many centuries it still had only one bridge. Today, you are never far from a river crossing. In the first of a two-part special on London Bridges, we look at those within the historic City of London, or "Square Mile."


Today London Bridge is modern and functional, but it has a long and colourful history. The Romans built the first wooden crossing here, around which the settlement of Londinium grew. By 1209 a stone bridge was completed that survived for more than 600 years.  In 1831 it was demolished to make way for a new bridge, but this one only lasted until 1968 when it was sold to an American businessman – it can now be found crossing the Colorado River at Lake Havasu City in Arizona! London's new concrete structure was opened by the Queen in 1973.


The medieval London Bridge was a crowded place with hundreds of shops and houses on it. It would have looked like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, except for the traitors heads displayed on the southern tower!
It became so congested that vehicles were instructed to keep to the left. This is one of the theories as to why the British still drive on the left to this day.


Perhaps the world’s most famous bridge and London’s most recognisable landmark, Tower Bridge celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. In the late 19th century a new crossing was needed east of London Bridge, to link parts of the expanding city without disrupting the river traffic. A solution was found in the now famous drawbridge design. Its framework consists of more than 11,000 tons of steel, which are clad in granite and stone to echo the Tower of London and give the bridge its ancient look.


• Tower Bridge opens for shipping about 900 times a year, more frequently in summer
• In 1958 a London bus had to jump from one side of the bridge to the other as it began to rise with the bus on it
• The bridge was painted its current red, white and blue for the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977
• Over 40,000 people still cross Tower Bridge every day


Much of the inside of Tower Bridge is open to the public, but each weekend in June you can also visit areas normally off limits, such as the Machinery Room and the enormous Bascule Chambers, which sit deep beneath the river. To book a place on one of these Engineering Tours or to find out times when the bridge will lift, go to www.towerbridge.org.uk


The Millennium Bridge was the first new pedestrian bridge across the Thames for more than a century. Its sleek, “blade of light” design links the Tate Modern and Southbank to St Paul’s Cathedral and the historic City of London. When it opened in 2000, it was quickly nicknamed “The wobbly Bridge” because of its swaying movement. This was soon rectified and today the bridge is as popular as the tourist attractions it connects.


Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew –
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told.

(Rudyard Kipling – The River’s Tale, 1911)

Until 1750 London had just one bridge – London Bridge. Kipling wrote these lines following the explosion of Victorian bridge-building. Today there are more than 30, from the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in the east to Hampton Court Bridge in the west.


Blackfriars is the busiest bridge in the city, crossed by 50,000 vehicles a day. The original Blackfriars opened in 1769 and was replaced a century later with the elegant Victorian bridge we see today. It has many lovely details, such as the carvings of birds on the bridge’s piers – freshwater birds on the upstream side and seabirds downstream.


In 1982, Roberto Calvi – known as ‘God’s banker’ because of his connections with the Vatican – was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge. 25 years later, in 2007, five people were acquitted of his murder. 




Speaker: Derek Allen (Standard British accent)

On 30th June London’s Tower Bridge will celebrate its 120th birthday. As the bridge’s exhibition manager Adam Blackwell explains, it’s a major London landmark, like Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus:

Adam Blackwell (Standard British/mild Yorkshire accent)

It’s a symbol of Britain, it’s a symbol of London. It’s the gateway to London, so it almost guards London and the river. But also it’s just its simplicity. It was built to be simple, and it does what it was designed to do: it lets river traffic go up and down to the centre of London, and lets people cross the river. People gather at those pedestrian gates, wait for a bridge lift, and see it going up and down. And even today, after it’s been beamed across the world, and the website and the Internet, and you can go on YouTube and watch it, people still stand there, and they’re in silence, the whole bridge when it moves, there might be a slight squeak, but it’s very quiet, and to hear tourists and Londoners stand at the bottom, wait for this really exciting thing to happen, it’s a really majestic thing to see.


And the bridge, which opens and closes several times a day, is a major feat of Victorian engineering:

Adam Blackwell

People really enjoy the engine rooms, and I’d urge any visitor to come here not to miss out. We do lose some visitors from the walkways to the engine rooms because they’re in a different part of the building. And that’s a real shame for those people because the engine rooms are the heartbeat of the bridge; it’s where all the story starts for how it goes up and down. They are magnificent specimens of our industrial past, our industrial heritage, and also they still move, so you can really get a sense of what it would have been like down there. You can touch everything, you can take photos (of) everything. We’re not like traditional museum, where we tell you can’t do things. You can take a picture of every element of the bridge, and you can touch it and really get hands on to it. So I’d really want to encourage everybody to get down to the engine rooms and make the most of their visit. It’s included in every ticket we sell, so don’t miss it!


As Adam Blackwell says, visitors to London love Tower Bridge. According to urban legend, an American businessman called Robert McCulloch tried to buy it in the 1960s, but he bought London Bridge by mistake. Today the old London Bridge connects an island on the Colorado River with Lake Havasu City in Arizona. We shall never know whether McCulloch really thought he was buying Tower Bridge as he died in 1977, but, still, it’s a great story!

Adam Blackwell

He was trying to buy Tower Bridge, but he called it “London Bridge” and so they sold him London Bridge, and so he got London Bridge! And it’s now in Arizona, a rather ugly, boring bridge, but actually, because of the story,
I think it’s one of top 10 visited bridges in the world. So it’s worked for him in the end!

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It’s been beamed across the world. È stato trasmesso in tutto il mondo. Ci sono vari modi per dire trasmettere in inglese: ad esempio to transmit, to broadcast, to air. Si dice anche to beam, che significa irradiare, irraggiare: è quello che fa un satellite.

So it’s worked for him in the end. To work significa letteralmente lavorare ma vuol dire anche funzionare.