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Baodai (Precious Belt) Bridge

Suzhou is a famous water land featuring interlaced rivers and lakes and numerous bridges. As eulogized in a classic poem:

Coming to Suzhou, you encounter,

Residences lying on jade-green river.

Lacking palaces on the ground,

Over waterways bridges abound.

Or, in another one:

In all the four directions there locate,

Myriads of exquisite bridges with scarlet balustrades.

The grandest among all of Suzhou's bridges, however, is Baodai (Precious Belt) Bridge, which is located in the south of Suzhou, near the Grand Canal. It is a bridge with 53 underneath arches, measuring 316.8 meters long. The bridge has been listed as one of the most famous multi-arched bridges in the worldwide.

Baodai Bridge was first built in the 11th year of the Yuanhe reign in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was so named in order to commemorate Wang Zhongshu, governor in Suzhou, who had donated his precious jade belt for the bridge's expansion.

Seen from afar, the bridge itself looks like an exquisite jade belt floating in the water. The bridge underwent several destructions and reconstructions in the dynasties of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing. The present one was rebuilt in 1446 during the reign of Zhengtong of the Ming Dynasty.

The Baodai Bridge has a particular structure. It was built with strong and elegant Jinshan granite. The length between first and last arches measures 249.5 meters. The approaching embankment at the northern end measures 23.2 meters and the southern one, 43.6 meters. It is 4.1 meters wide and the average arch span is 4.6 meters. The bridge heaves from the 13rd arch until its utmost in the 15th, which measures as high as 7.5 meters, resembling a huge turtle backing the clouds. Originally there was a pair of stone lions on each end, but now there is only one left at the northern end.

In the history of bridge building, few stone structures like this, with large-scale manifold arches, great length and ingenuity structure, have been found. Among all the preserved ancient bridges in present China, this is the longest multi-arched one.

The Baodai Bridge is also a vital communication line between the north and the south. It is seated on the Daidai River running between the Grand Canal and the Dantai Lake. The faraway undulating mountains, vast fields, and the waters nearby, all form an integral whole exhibiting picturesque scenery that has been eulogized by poets of different times. Following are the lines by Lu Shiyi of the Qing Dynasty:

The water of Dan-tai Lake is shiny green,

The Precious Belt Bridge floats like a silk ribbon.

If possible, I would plant groves of peaches,

And then enjoy every spring amid the flowers.

(China.org.cn June 24, 2004)

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