From Ancient Romans to today, here’s London’s oldest bridge

World heritage made in AD 46, London Bridge has been dismantled and rebuilt several times

Lake Havasu City is a town in Mohave County, Arizona, a place inhabited by 50,000 people located on the banks of a river and refreshed by the waters of Lake Havasu. In this corner of America, surrounded by the desert and located on the border between Arizona and California, tourists are few, but those few lovers of the unusual usually choose a walk on the London Bridge as the first visit on their tour.

The historic London Bridge, or rather its previous version that was replaced by the current one in 1973, was dismantled, transferred overseas, and reassembled in Lake Havasu City, on a whim of the American oil magnate Robert P. McCulloch. On April 19, 1968, he purchased the English bridge and paid for its transfer and reconstruction to celebrate its inauguration in his Arizona city on October 10, 1971, in the presence of the then Mayor of London, Peter Studd, and the Governor of Arizona, Jack Williams.

Incredibly, since then and still today, the American version of the London Bridge, along with the English-themed amusement park built around it, has become the second-largest tourist attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon, a testament to the power of infrastructure and a reflection of a millennia-old history.

The first London Bridge built by the Ancient Romans

Historical records take us back to 46 AD. During those years, Roman conquerors founded the first commercial settlement, which would later be named Londinium and eventually give rise to London.

In order to solve the problem of crossing the River Thames, the Romans set up an initial structure, which was actually a bridge made of military boats that allowed the passage of men from one bank to the other. However, as early as 55 AD, the bridge made of boats was transformed into a proper bridge, which was destroyed during subsequent revolts and then rebuilt in the same location where it stands today, thus giving birth to the ancestor of the London Bridge, the first bridge of London.

The bridge evolves with England

The history of the London Bridge runs parallel to that of England. First during the Saxon period, which ended at the beginning of the year 1000, then during the Norman period, and finally during the Middle Ages, the London Bridge was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. It became a trench in bloody battles but also fell victim to violent storms, such as the London Tornado of 1091, which shattered it into pieces.

During the Middle Ages, the structure changed as a series of houses were built on the bridge itself, making the London Bridge, for a period, the longest inhabited bridge in Europe. We are around the end of the 1200s when the community living on the bridge formed a true society. In those decades, the history of the bridge became a true urban story, with moments of celebration and absolute tragedies, such as the two fires that broke out simultaneously at both ends of the bridge in 1212, trapping the inhabitants in the center of the structure and causing over three thousand casualties.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, the bridge—recognized as the oldest in the city—earned the nickname “Old London Bridge” and increasingly became a thoroughfare for the city. In 1722, for the first time, the mayor issued a decree ordering vehicles entering the city from Southwark to keep to the west side of the bridge, and those leaving the city to keep to the east side. Many believe that this decree gave rise to the practice of driving on the left in England.

Aside from its historical significance, as the years passed, it became evident that the infrastructure needed to be modernized to meet the growing demand for urban transportation. This happened, and in 1831, a new London Bridge was inaugurated by King William IV and Queen Adelaide while the old one was destroyed. The new bridge was 283 meters long and 16 meters wide, but in the early years of the 20th century, it was widened to alleviate traffic congestion.

The new London Bridge

The bridge built in the early decades of the 19th century served the city of London for over a century, although the expansion operations made it too heavy for its foundations and initiated a slow but relentless sinking process.

That’s why in 1968, the bridge was sold to the American magnate while the new London Bridge was being constructed, the same one that still overlooks the Thames behind The Shard, the “shard” skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano. On March 17, 1973, Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the current version of the London Bridge, which has become a symbol of London‘s infinite vitality over time due to the thousands of people who descend from the subway at London Bridge Station and cross it on foot every day.