Leonardo daVinci worked in Milan from 1482 to 1499 often commissioned by Ludovico Sforza,Duke of Milan. This ended when French troops invaded Milan and overthrewLudovico Sforza at the start of the Second Italian War. Leonardo fled to Veniceand found new work as a military architect and engineer, both in Venice andlater in 1502 under Cesare Borgia. Around this time, he applied for a positionin the Court of Sultan Bayazid II in Constantinople. In his letter to thesultan, Leonardo proposed four projects, one of which was an arched bridge.
In hisletter, Leonardo writes “I, your faithful servant, understand that it hasbeen your intention to erect a bridge from Galata (Pera) to Stambul… across theGolden Horn (‘Haliç”), but this has not been done because there were no expertsavailable. I, your subject, have determined how to build the bridge. Itwill be a masonry bridge as high as a building, and even tall ships will be ableto sail under it.” The GoldenHorn the Leonardo references is an inlet and estuary in present day Turkeyapproximately 1,000 miles east of where we are currently standing. It is 6miles in length and 800 feet wide.
Leonardo designed the arched bridge to be1,201 feet long including the runway leading up to the span and 141 feet tallto allow ships to pass underneath. The bridge had a tapered width, with thesmallest portion being in the center. While the mathematics for the parabolicsupport needed for a bridge were not worked out until the 19th century,Leonardo appears to have intuitively realized that this design provided strongsupport for the bridge. Compressionand tension Leonardo’s letterwas received by the Ottoman Court of Bayazid II.
However, the scribe identifiedthe letter’s author to be Ricardo the infidel of Genoa, not Leonardo da Vinci.It wasn’t until 1952 that German scholar von Franz Babingen established thatthe letter was da Vinci’s. Therefore, Leonardo never got a position at thecourt and the bridge was never created.
If the bridge had been built, it wouldstill be the longest single masonry arch span in the world. WhileLeonardo’s bridge was not constructed during his lifetime, a bridge was builtin Norway based on Leonardo’s design. Norwegian painter and artist Vebjorn Sandformed a partnership with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and builtthe bridge in order to replace Norway’s Ugliest Bridge.
The pedestrian bridgewas built over European route E18 in As, Norway between 1997 and 2001. The bridgeis smaller version of da Vinci’s parabolic arch design and is made of laminatedwood. It is 385 feet long with its longest span being 130 feet. The bridgein Norway launched the Leonardo Bridge Project. The project aims to build daVinci footbridges all around the world using local materials and artisans anduse it as a logo for all nations. While many bridges have been proposed, fewhave been built. One bridge was built in 2016 in the Chateau du Clos Luce, daVinci’s home during the final years of his life.
It is featured in the da Vincipark. Other temporary da VInci bridges have been built using ice in Antarctica,Greenland, Denmark, and Finland. Unfortunately, the project’s website iscurrently shut down and no more bridges are currently in the works.