Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bogotá's Forgotten Bridges

The Puente Boyaca, visible along the Eje Ambiental.
Have you seen them?
Bogotá's Rivers. 
We've heard lots recently about the demolition and planned replacement of Seventh Ave.'s bridge over 26th St., which has meant pedestrianization of part of Seventh Ave. as well as huge traffic jams in central Bogotá.

Along the Eje Ambiental,
pools represent the Rio San Francisco
which flows in a pipeline below ground. 
But Bogotá also has a historical patrimony of bridges, altho almost all of them are now buried underground.

When the Spanish first arrived in Bogotá the city was predominantly seasonal wetlands, with rivers flowing down from the Eastern Hills and spreading out across the savannah.

The Rio San Francisco, visible
behind the Quinta de Bolivar. 
Over the centuries, the Spanish and later the Colombians built bridges across those rivers. Today, with most of those rivers buried under cement and asphalt, those bridges have disappeared as well. About the only old bridge visible today is the Puente Boyaca, (renamed from Las Aguas in 1905) and now partially uncovered on the Eje Ambiental, near the Las Aguas Church (and the Spanish-Colombian Cultural Center, whose construction never gets going).

A map near the Puente Boyaca
shows locations of historic
bridges, now buried under asphalt.
Today, the Rio San Francisco is alsopaved over except for its upper reaches, and represented by a string of pools down the avenue's center.

But, once the river had 18 major bridges, a map says, across which Bogotanos traveled between La Candelaria - then most of the city - and the city's north.

Last year, during construction of the new TransMilenio line along Carrera 10, workers uncovered walls belonging to an old bridge which spanned the Rio San Agustin near the avenue's intersection with 6th St. The old bridges are considered historical and architectural landmarks, despite their invisbility, and so the TransMilenio designs were altered so as not to disturb the old brickwork. I visited the site, where the Bicentenario Station and a ramp interchange are being built, and could see no sign of the old bridge. The men working on the project knew nothing about it either.
A homeless person's campsite
alongside the Rio San Francisco. 

One of the few rivers still exposed, albeit in a canal, is the Rio Arzobispo, which runs thru the Parque Nacional and the Teusaquillo neighborhood. Like the other rivers, tho, the Arzobispo (said to be named for an archbishop who committed suicide by leaping over one of its waterfalls during the 1800s) reeks from pollution drained into it by illegal hillside homes and homeless people who live under its bridges.

The Bicentenario TransMilenio station. Workers doing excavations here found walls from an old bridge spanning the Rio San Agustin. 

Rivers still flow down from Bogotá's eastern hills - but now flow underground. 

The Rio Arzobispo runs in a canal, but at least you can see it. 

Women cover their noses while crossing a bridge over the Rio Arzobispo. Notice the signs on the bridge prohibiting defecation and urination. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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