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If one counts footbridges (and certainly, one should), more than 100 bridges span the River Thames from beginning to end.
Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge and London Bridge, are widely recognized around the world.
London's bridges enable trains, cars, and pedestrians to cross quickly over the River Thames rush hour permitting. While some are celebrated in nursery rhymes or captured as backdrops in travelers' photographs, each London bridge has a unique history.
Let's take a brief look at several of London's bridges.
A London Bridge has existed in more or less the same spot for almost 2,000 years. And just as the nursery rhyme explains, it kept falling down. The Romans built the first bridge shortly after they set up camp in London in 46 AD. Constructed out of wood, early versions of London Bridge were susceptible to fire, storms, and occasional invading armies.
The first stone bridge was completed after 33 years of construction in 1209. King John was on the throne, and he permitted houses and shops as well as St. Thomas à Becket Chapel to be built on the span. A drawbridge permitted maritime passage. To secure the bridge at night, a gate was installed at both ends. It was from the southern gatehouse that the severed heads of traitors were displayed for macabre enjoyment and royal warning. William Wallace and Sir Thomas More were among the traitors so honored.
The stone bridge lasted over 600 years and was finally put out of commission in 1831. Its replacement was not so durable (foundation problems caused it to sink over the years), and that London Bridge was sold to American Robert McCulloch, who had it taken down and then reconstructed in Lake Havasu, Arizona, in the United States where the bridge has been a successful tourist attraction since its opening in 1971.
The current London Bridge was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. It accommodates both vehicles and pedestrians.
This bridge is so popular that some people think that it is actually London Bridge. Perhaps the most-photographed of all of London's bridges, Tower Bridge is comparatively young—it went into service in June 1894.
A busy port and docks east of London Bridge necessitated another span across the Thames, but it would take years of discussion, an open design competition, and eight years of construction to make Tower Bridge a reality.
Tower Bridge is a bascule (the word means see-saw or rocker in French) bridge; the engineering design enables the bridge to be quickly raised to accommodate the passage of ships below.
The Tower Bridge Exhibition (admission is charged) lets visitors see the original engine rooms; the exhibition uses photos, drawings, movies, and animatronics figures to describe the project's history and engineering.
Visitors can walk across the high walkways and enjoy the magnificent views—remember to take your camera.
It is the bridges proximity to the Tower of London that gives it its name, though you wouldn't be faulted for thinking that the twin tower design was responsible for the moniker.