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The World’s Largest Brick Bridge

Before the age of steel and concrete, bricks and stones were the only two materials available to architects and bridge designers hoping to span a river or a valley with a structure that was both strong and durable. While these ancient building materials might not match some of the qualities of steel, they suited the needs of the time. Indeed, stone bridges in particular are virtually indestructible. There are thousands of stone and brick viaducts across Europe and Asia that dates back by hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. They will easily outlast many of our modern steel bridges.

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Ouse Valley Viaduct. Photo: Flyby Photography/Shutterstock.com

By the middle of the 19th century, iron and steel had largely replaced stones and bricks as the building material of choice. Metals are flexible that allow engineers to produce an endless variety of forms, in addition to being resistant to fire. Steel bridges could be made stronger and taller, are less expensive to build, and can produce greater unsupported spans.

But masonry bridges built in several arched spans hold one big advantage—they can support greater weight than a bridge made of steel or iron. As a matter of fact, the more weight that is put onto an arched bridge, the stronger its structure becomes. After a series of tragic failures with cast iron bridges leading to great loss of lives, railway engineers began to build bridges largely out of bricks, and this continued as late as the 20th century.

One of the finest examples of Victorian Era railway bridge is the Ouse Valley Viaduct, completed in 1842. The Ouse Valley Viaduct of the London & Brighton Railway is located over River Ouse between the towns of Haywards Heath and Balcombe in Sussex. The 500-meter-long bridge is built out of traditional red bricks and smooth limestone of a lighter fairer color. The contrast between the two materials draws the attention of the observer to the slender deck and elegant upper elements containing four small rectangular Italianate pavilions and parapets. A distinguishing feature of this viaduct are the inverted arches at the bottom of the void within each pier. These voids are perfectly aligned in a straight line offering a remarkable view through the viaduct from end to end.

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Ouse Valley Viaduct. Photo: Tom Lee/Flickr

Construction of the Ouse Valley Viaduct was a massive undertaking, requiring some 11 million bricks, many of which had to be shipped across the English Channel from the Netherlands, in addition to some locally produced bricks. Caen stone used for the parapets, string courses, pier caps and the pavilions was brought from Normandy in France.

The viaduct continues to carry trains between London and Brighton everyday.

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Ouse Valley Viaduct. Photo: GSW Photography/Shutterstock.com

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Ouse Valley Viaduct. Photo: Steve Slater/Flickr

Although 11 million bricks might sound a lot, the Ouse Valley Viaduct is not the largest brick bridge in the world. That title belongs to the Göltzsch Viaduct in northern Saxony, about 4 km west of the German town of Reichenbach im Vogtland. Built in 1851, this massive structure spans the valley of the Göltzsch River and rises up to more than 250 feet, supported by multiple arches distributed in four levels. For a time it was also the tallest railway bridge in the world.

The bridge’s designer, Johann Andreas Schubert, decided to use bricks instead of granite because of the abundance of loam in the vicinity, which allowed for rapid and cost-efficient production of bricks. More than 20 brickyards along the railway line was engaged in brick production, and together they produced over 26 million bricks for the bridge.

Göltzsch Viaduct

Göltzsch Viaduct, the largest brick bridge in the world. Photo: taranchic/Shutterstock.com

Göltzsch Viaduct

Göltzsch Viaduct. Photo: Alice-D/Shutterstock.com

Göltzsch Viaduct

Göltzsch Viaduct. Photo: dieterjaeschkephotography/Shutterstock.com

About 10 kilometers south of Göltzsch Viaduct, stands the second largest brick bridge in the world, the Elster Viaduct. This one is made up of 12 million bricks. The viaduct was built in two levels and carries the same Leipzig–Hof line of the Saxon-Bavarian State Railway. It is only nine meters shorter in height than the Göltzsch Viaduct, but is half the length.

Elster Viaduct

Elster Viaduct, the second largest brick bridge in the world. Photo: Rico Markus/Shutterstock.com

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