When I get off the subway at Garden Expo Park, I realise that it is still a long walk to reach Marco Polo Bridge. The sun is on its way down and I know it will not wait for me, so I walk the more than 2 kilometres as fast as I can. I had hoped to have a view of the bridge from the riverside, but I do not see any access path to the river. Worse: I see road works, and for a moment fear that the bridge is closed off. Fortunately, I can walk around it, and reach the west side of the Yongding river. Even though the bridge was widened in 1969, it is pedestrian-only, and it turns out to be an area for the locals to go for an evening stroll. They call this the Lugou Bridge (which translates to dark ditch): the Marco Polo Bridge has stuck as a name for foreigners because the famous Venetian traveler described it in his journals.
What strikes me immediately and inevitably, are the hundreds of sculpted lions on both sides of the bridge. Upon closer inspection, it turns out that smaller lions are carved within the statues; the total count of lions on the bridge is not conclusive, but the number should be around 500. Built between 1189 and 1192, making access to Dadu (as Beijing was then called) much easier, the stone bridge was only a few decades old when Marco Polo visited. He described it as "... there is a bridge so beautiful that there is hardly any bridge in other places that can rival it. The engineering is perfect: it is a bridge unique in the world." This marvel of medieval engineering and artistry is 266 metres long, and I walk slowly across it, stopping frequently to take in the views while the sun is sinking behind me and behind the lions.
While it seems normal that there are just people parading the bridge and taking selfies, the bridge was closed for vehicles only in 1969. The central part of the bridge, which shows the original width, is paved with slabs of stone. The sun shines through the lions, turning them into gold. When I reach the eastern side, I look back, and see how the lions turn into silhouettes against the setting sun. Clouds of flies stick around my head as I kneel for the best views. When I reach the other side, I see a marble stele, with four characters meaning "morning moon at Lugou". I also find a sign further adding to my knowledge of the bridge. In 1937, Japanese troops occupied a railway junction nearby, which sparked a collision with Chinese troops: the Marco Polo Bridge incident would start the War of Resistance against Japan. The pink clouds above the bridge turn grey when I finally turn around and head east, back to the metropolis that Marco Polo could never have imagined back in the 13th century.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Marco Polo Bridge (China). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Marco Polo Bridge. Read more about this site.