Danube Virtual Museum

Trajan’s Bridge Complex

Via Traiana

Even today, Just five kilometers downstream from Kladovo and Kostol town on the right bank of the Danube there are the remains of 1900-year-old monumental piers of Trajan's Bridge. Together with the remains of the bridge there is also a fortress, castellum Pontes - Transdrobeta (on the other side of Romanian Drobeta / Turnu Severin).

Although information on Trajan’s Bridge, its appearance and technical details comes mostly from literary sources, Roman writer Dio Cassius (Dio Cassius LXVIII, 13) provides us with the most details. Among others, he noted that it was an incredibly high stone bridge with 20 piers in water (around 150 Roman paces high, which without the foundation is 45 metres) with the interval between the piers being 170 paces (around 51 metres).

We also get information about the appearance of the bridge from the relief on the two surviving metopes of Trajan's column, located in Trajan’s Forum in Rome since 113 AD.

Even today, a massive quadrangular base foundation with all four piers depicted on Trajan’s column can be seen on the right, Serbian bank of the Danube, as well as on the Romanian. According to this precise graphic representation, the piers were connected with constructed arches. The first pier, the largest one, was supporting a vaulted gate-portal, while the fourth one, closest to the river, with a wide, polygonal platform in its base, supported the construction of the first arch bridge over the river, which was of a much larger range. Due to its above-ground height of about 10 metres (without foundation) and the unchanged stoutness, it has been successfully resisting the ravages of time for millennia.

The fortress and all four preserved piers of the bridge on the right bank have been well studied through the Iron Gate Project which involved protection and archaeological excavations, while the underwater piers on the bed of the Danube, their position and level of preservation, were examined using a special vessel equipped with sonar (Iron Gate Project, 1982). Besides technical characteristics, that was the first time when the length of the bridge, which amounts to 1069.664 metres, was precisely measured.

Poles on the bank were built of stone blocks (opus quadratum, finishing, see Relief bridge, on the pier), with the inner core made of quality Roman brick, with strong, stone foundations, using very compact concrete mixtures (mortar with much smaller pebbles and stones), specially built using wooden box-caissons (cheson). The same (or similar) construction technique was used for piers in the bed of the Danube.

It is not known exactly when the bridge stopped being used. It is recorded that the Emperor Hadrian (117-137 AD), Trajan’s successor, ordered the demolition of its upper structure to prevent barbarian attacks, but it is more likely that this was a temporary measure. It is hard to imagine that the bridge was not used, at least occasionally in late antiquity, during the rule of Emperor Diocletian and Constantine I. Byzantine writer Procopius (De aedificiis IV, 6) recorded that, in his time (the sixth century) the bridge was in ruins.

The remains of Trajan's bridge piers have been conserved and protected from the effects of the Danube lake by building the defense cofferdam (Iron Gate Project).

An original copy of Trajan's pier, depicting Trajan’s bridge at Kladovo, is exhibited at the Archaeology Museum of Đerdap in Kladovo. It tells us what the superstructure of the bridge was like, based on which the first identification and reconstruction of the bridge was done 300 years ago (see Marsigli).This copy was a gift from the Italian Embassy in 1969, given after an exhibition held in Belgrade on the city of Rome.

Litеrаture

Ј. (Rаnkоv) Kоndić (text in prepress); for the research results of Pоntеs-Тrајаn’s Bridge, see. Đеrdаpskе svеskе/Cahiers des Portes de Fer/CPF/, I/1980, II/1984 i IV/1987, with detailed literature; see also S. Gušić, Traian's bridge a contribution towards its reconstruction, CPF The Roman Limes on the Middle and the Lower Danube, 1996; for Trajan's column see also C. Cichorius, Die Reliefs der Trajanssäule (1986-1900); M. Mirković, The Iron Gates (Đerdap) and the Roman Policy on the Moesian Limes AD 33-117, 27-40 u CPF The Roman Limes on the Middle and the Lower Danube, 1996; M. Mirković, Moesia Superior Eine Provinz an der mittleren Donau, Orbis Provinciarum, Mainz 2007, with provided literature.
(Text: National Museum in Belgrade – Archaeological Museum Đerdap)