Ticino and its Bridges

The Bereguardo bridge has always commanded a strategic position, ever since its construction more than seven hundred years ago. They say it was built at the behest of the Milanese Visconti family; what we do know is that the earliest surviving account of it dates back to 1374.  According to historical sources, the surrounding area was once dense with forest and teeming with wildlife, particularly the game that the Visconti and their courtiers liked to hunt. In pursuit of their quarry, they needed to be able to cross the river as quickly as possible, and thus work started on a bridge.

This extraordinary work of architecture and engineering leads out of the Ticino area, connecting the Ticino Park with the neighbouring Lomellina. The bridge remains a sight for sore eyes, but today, sadly, its condition is far from ideal. Its striking appearance fails to hide decades of neglect, as shown by missing wooden boards and by the eerie creaking of a structure no longer buoyed by water. The low level of the river means that its supporting pontoons, rather than floating, rest on a bed of gravel and muck. It does, however, remain unique, and neither the ravages of time nor slack maintenance can take away from its cultural significance.

Move but a few miles, and you will find other local gems: countless bridges dot the wonderful Pavese landscape south of the Po, where the floodplain suddenly rears up into the hilly slopes that are lined with DOC and DOCG-certified vineyards. It’s not far from the bridge of Bereguardo to that of Becca – another amazing piece of historical architecture, sadly in a like state of decay – marking the point where the river Ticino flows into the Po. Its thirteen iron sections add up to a kilometre in length, all erected between 1910 and 1912. It has been through much, this bridge, and it’s starting to show its age. It was bombarded during the Second World War and reconstructed after the armistice, but in recent decades its utility has been limited by structural decrepitude. Eventually, the decision was taken to build a new bridge alongside it.

As you enter the city of Pavia, your attention is claimed by the Ponte Coperto (covered bridge), without doubt one of Italy’s most beautiful viaducts. Its origins are truly ancient, dating back to the Roman era, when Pavia went by the name of Ticinum, after the river. Naturally the Romans had equipped the river with a bridge, and it was on the remains of this that a medieval crossing was completed in 1354. Two centuries later, Galeazzo II Visconti had the bridge covered with a roof, which is supported by a hundred small granite columns, making it like no other piece of architecture on earth. Later, a little chapel was added to the middle of the structure, and a gatehouse on each end.

But this bridge too faced a reckoning in the Second World War, which saw it razed completely. It was rebuilt in 1949, with a couple of modifications: the seven arches were compressed into five, while the deck was broadened significantly in order to increase the flow of traffic.