The suspension bridge is the city’s most representative architectural symbol and it is a civil engineering masterpiece from the beginning of the twentieth century. Its construction was the first permanent step across the lower section of the Ebre River and the key to communication between Barcelona and Valencia.
The initiative to build a bridge to Amposta began in 1906 by Mayor Joan Palau. He tried to interest the Government and the Crown in this project. He felt important his negotiations with the girl Isabel de Borbó. Everything and the initial refusals by the Navy, finally the negotiations have their fruits. In 1909 the Royal Order was approved, granting the construction of the bridge, and in 1914 the works were awarded. The project that was chosen was that of E. Ribera due to its technical and aesthetic superiority. It was the brightest, leaving the entire section of the suspended bridge over the river, which allowed river navigation, essential for the town at the time. It was also the highest point above the river, 6 m above the flood of 19075. In addition, it respected the towpath in the design of the left bank pilaster.
The bridge is characterized by the two 24 m high stone pilasters in the shape of a triumphal arch that are erected on both sides of the river. But the main reason why it stands out is to be an innovative work of engineering at the time. It is the second penjant pont in the world built with reinforced concrete and, until well into the 20th century, it was the brightest in the State and the 4th in Europe, at 134 m. In addition, it was the bridge with the foundations deepest with compressed air, being at 30m. It is for all this that it has been considered one of Ribera’s main masterpieces.
The bridge is destroyed during the Civil War due to its strategic importance. Even so, the reconstruction and all subsequent refurbishments follow the original model, with some adaptations to increase its capacity. In the most recent, carried out between 2007 and 2009, the cable system was replaced, maintaining the original structural design and improving the functional aspects of the structure, the tile was rehabilitated, and the metal structures were reinforced.
The construction of the Pont Penjant was difficult, both because of the initial administrative reluctance and because of the technical difficulties that the terrain presented. In 1910, the pre-construction surveys at the Carsi house in Barcelona were awarded by auction. The soundings begin in July, meeting with the surprise, making the perforations of the left bank, that the artesian waters rose up to 3 m above the river. In 1914 the works were awarded to Ribera, an engineer recognized for his innovations and being responsible for most of the bridges built in the state between 1890 and 1930. Taking into account the examination of the terrain and the great depth of the channel, the engineer proposed a suspension bridge, despite the fact that these were in disuse in Europe for their lack of rigidity. To solve this, the bridge was designed, inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge, with a reinforced concrete tile, braced by cables that connect it to the two pilasters, and a rigid railing as a stiffening beam. The works were carried out by the company “Sociedad de Construcciones Hidráulicas y Civiles”, directed by the engineer Eugenio Ribera, associated with “Sociedad Franco-Española de Wire, Cables y Transportas Aéreos”, in charge of the metallic part, since the other does not have experience in ponts penjants.
The first stone was placed on August 15, 1915, within the Major Festivities, at the right-hand pilaster. While it is firmly seated on top of the conglomerates of the river terrace, the left pillar presented problems, since the sandy bottom on which it is located forced the reinforced concrete foundations to sink 30 m, making the work more expensive. Given the refusal of the company to take over, the mayor offered to take the stone for the reform to the site, which was loaded from the Freginals quarry by the carters of Amposta.
Apart from the construction of the bridge, the access road to the bridge on the right bank had to coincide with one of the streets of the city. All this implied the expropriation by the State of 74 houses on Calle Alcalde Joan Palau to widen it, as well as the demolition of the old chapel of Santa Susanna and the slaughterhouse, in charge of the city council. The initial budget for the construction of the bridge was 816,919.26 pesetas, but due to unforeseen events, the final price was strung up to 1,549,557.50 pesetas. The City Council had to contribute 200,000 pesetas, a very difficult cost for the Consistory to assume in 1909, which is why it was subsidized through donations from individuals. The rest was assumed by the State, with a contribution from the Mancomunidad de Catalunya.
The pont penjant has a span of 134 m, it felt the longest distance between pilasters at that time. This is divided into three parts: a central 86 m, supported on each side by six main cables, and two more sections, 24 m each, supported by six cables attached to the pilasters. The platform originally had a width of 6 m, of which 4.50 were occupied by the road and 0.75 by each of the side aisles. This changed after the reconstruction, with the installation of the lateral pedestrian walkways. Regarding the railing and the corridors, it is interesting to use a 1.4 m high reinforced beam that crosses the bridge in its entire length. The platform consisted of a 12 cm thick reinforced concrete slab, with 4 cm overlays of compressed asphalt. The structure is made up of 105 transverse beams held by the holding cables, and is provided with special technical elements to prevent expansion and lateral movements.
In July 1920, when the works were finished, the resistance tests were carried out: a static and a dynamic one. The static consisted of loading 234 tons of sand, evenly distributed over the road and the platforms of the Pont for two hours. Despite the fact that when the sand got wet, it became 300 tons, the bridge more than passed the test, supporting this weight for three days. The dynamic resistance test consisted of passing 44 cars loaded with sacks of gravel and small stone with a total weight of 66,000 kilos. The population of Amposta participated in it and the Lira Ampostina music band was entertained. On December 29, 1920, it was opened to circulation, but it was not until the middle of 1921 that the entrance ramp was finished.
On December 29, 1920, the provisional reception of the bridge was held, which was attended by the chief engineer of Public Works Cabestany, the engineer Mr. Francisco Monares, the assistant Mariano Martín, the engineer JE Ribera, Mr. José Nieto and the Secretary of the civil government Rafael Verdú, the City Council, with the Mayor Joan Palau, the townspeople and the music band “Lira Ampostina” who entertained. The celebration was somewhat spontaneous, since the public had not been informed of the arrival of the expeditionary ends that same morning. This day the bridge was open to traffic. Even so, the access ramp to the bridge and the widening of the entrance road was not finished. On July 30, the Public Works engineer Mr. Francisco Monares comes to Amposta to inspect the works on Santa Sebastian Street. The first week of September 1921, finally, the access ramp is finished. Even so, the street was not finished widening and fixing until 1937, due to the various problems when it came to tearing down the houses expropriated by the State.
According to the newspaper El Eco de la Comarca, the official opening of the bridge was scheduled for the first fortnight of December 1921, to which King Alfonso XIII was invited. Even so, it seems that this could never be completed, and therefore the Amposta bridge was not inaugurated until 1939, after its reconstruction. For a long time it was thought that General Primo de Rivera was the one who had inaugurated it in 1921, since there is a photo of him on the Pont Penjant with the Mayor. It has recently been discovered that in April 1924 General Miguel Primo de Rivera, who was then president of the Military Directorate that governed Spain, made an official trip to several cities in Catalonia. It is possible that, as was customary at the time, the procession, when passing through Amposta, stopped at the bridge to greet the local authorities gathered at the entrance of the town.
According In the spring of 1938, during the Civil War, the bridge was bombed several times by the Nationalists, as it was a key point for communications on the lower stretch of the Ebro. The aim was to isolate the remaining Republicans on this side of the Ebro, as this was the last bridge to operate from Zaragoza. They finally managed to break the bridge on 10 May. The Junkers planes of the Aviazione Legionaria Italiana delle Baleari, which supported Franco’s side, bombed it, breaking the lateral cables that supported the hanging metal platform, leaving it totally disabled.
After the destruction of the bridge, the Republican army’s pontoon brigade built a bridge of boats, linking the lutes together with a wooden platform, from the Piazza dell’Aube to the other side of the river, to communicate with the rest of their area. On 18th May, with the occupation of Amposta by the Nationalists, the Republicans used the bridge of boats for the retreat. The bridge ended up sinking due to the overload of troops, cavalry, carriages, lorries and tanks.
From the beginning, the National Army made it a priority to rebuild the bridge quickly, because of its importance as a means of communication. However, as Amposta was on the war front during the Battle of the Ebro, the works could not be carried out. That is why the Town Council provisionally restored the traditional method of crossing the Ebro, a barge made up of two wooden barges, which was used before the construction of the bridge. It was not until January 1939 that work began on the reconstruction of the Pont Penjant, as part of the Franco government’s plan for the reconstruction of communications to the main roads of the State. This restoration was carried out following the original model, taking advantage of the elements that had not been destroyed by the bombing, and adding some modifications to increase the capacity of the bridge and providing an external pedestrian crossing. Finally, in October of that year, the bridge was inaugurated in the presence of the Minister of Public Works, the head of the Fourth Military Region, the head of the Third Region, the civil governors of Tarragona and Valencia and the bishop of Tortosa, along with other personalities.