This Bronze Age Highway Has The World’s Oldest Bridges That Are Still In Use Today

Margie Jones

Four known Mycenaean corbel arch bridges in the vicinity of Mycenae and Arkadiko villages in Greece are considered to be some of the world’s oldest bridges. Two of them are still in operation and have been so for at least 3,000 years.

Arkadiko Bridge, a surviving example of Mycenaean bridge construction in Argolis, Peloponnesos. Image credit: Flausa123

All the bridges belong to the same Bronze Age highway that linked Mycenae, Tiryns, Tolo and Epidaurus, and all of them have a similar design and age. They were built between 1300 and 1190 BCE, and are considered the oldest arch bridges still in existence. (The 4,000-year-old Bridge of Girsu in Iraq was only recently identified as a bridge over an ancient waterway. Until then, the Mycenaean bridges were considered to be the oldest bridges in the world).

Built with massive irregular limestone blocks, the highway and the bridges were part of a larger military road system. And those bridges were truly built to last. Two of them, Arkadiko Bridge and Petrogephyri bridge, are still used for the needs of local agriculture.

Similarly to the other bridges, Arkadiko Bridge was built using Cyclopean masonry, with limestone boulders, smaller stones, and little pieces of tile assembled tightly together without mortar. It stretches 72 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 13 feet tall.

The ancient bridge is still safe for pedestrian use and locals do use it occasionally. However, that wasn’t its original purpose. Based on the bridge’s style, archaeologists have concluded that it was built specifically for chariots. The structure even still has the curbs intended to guide the horse-drawn vehicles. And yes it can still withstand a chariot today, albeit a modern one.

A modern day chariot over Arkadiko bridge. Source

Petrogephyri bridge (pictured below), the other ancient bridge still in use, crosses the same stream 1 km to the west of Arkadiko bridge. Otherwise similar to the latter in size and appearance, this structure has a larger span and a little higher vault.

A fifth, well-preserved Mycenaean bridge is located in the wider region at Lykotroupi in northern Argolis, along another Mycenaean main road. It is very close to Arkadiko Bridge in size: 5.20 metres (17.1 ft) wide at the bottom, 2.40 metres (7 ft 10 in) at the top and with a corbelled arch span of a little more than a metre. That road also still features curbs for guiding fast-moving chariots.

Petrogephyri bridge, another Mycenaean bridge nearby, part of the same ancient highway from Tiryns to Epidauros, Argolis, Peloponnes, Greece. The bridge and the road were constructed for the use by chariots in the late Greek Bronze Age (Late Helladic period, ca. 1300-1190 BC). Image credit: Heinz Schmitz

Both functioning bridges and the remains of the other two bridges are part of the historical heritage of mankind. Despite this fact, none of them has been appropriately described or exhibited so far. In constructional terms, one of the bridges is threatened by a disaster, and archaeologists are therefore urging the application of protection measures.


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