History of Bridges of Sri Lanka – ශ්රී ලංකාවේ පාලම්
Bridges are something we take for granted today. Every time you step on to the road, we travel over them with not even relising it and brides have probably existed since the birth of the man.
The most basic form of a bridge is the “Edanda”, a log laid across a waterway. Most of the time its one or two Coconut tree trunks laid across a stream. Some may have a makeshift hand railing but most will not. Therefore you need a certain level of balance to cross a Edanda with a leap of faith to take the first step giving rise to the proverb ‘Pandithayata Edande Yanna Barilu” – A pundit cannot cross a Edanda.
The earliest bridges found in Sri Lanka other than the Edanda, are stone bridges. There are five known stone bridges in Sri Lanka. Most of these stone bridges are believed to be built between the 5th and 9th centuries.
The first and the most well known stone bridge is the Gal Palama in Anurdhapura. This bridge has been partially restored by the Department of Archaeology.
There is another smaller hidden bridge about 100 meters before this bridge over Halpan Ela, a stream running parallel to the Malwathu Oya. This bridge too has been partially restored by the Department of Archaeology.
The forth bridge is probably been seen by most but not noticed. This bridge lies at Tiriyaya at the beginning foot path to the Girihandu Seya from the current car park. The stream of water which ran under the water is long gone leaving the ruins of the bridge on a flat land.
All the above 4 stone bridges are believed to be on the ancient pilgrim route from Anuradhapura to Tiriyaya Monastery.
The fifth bridge is hidden from the public in a jungle area in the eastern province in Kayankerni between Oddamadavi and Vakare. Only the stone pillars remains of the bridge with the rock slabs probably fallen in to the water. Being in a remote location ravaged by war for 20 years, no attempt has been made to restore this bridge so far.
During the era of Kandyan kingdom we find some wooden bridges which doubled as Ambalama (way side rest) for the weary traveler. The best example of this type of wooden bridge can be seen at Bogoda Bridge at Bogoda Raja Maha Viharaya which lies between Badulla and Bandarawela.
Another such small bridge can be found at the Pilikuththuwa Raja Maha Viharaya in Gampaha. This is believed to be built in the 18th century.
Another type of a interesting bridge is called Wal Palama or Sangili Palama, a suspending foot bridge. They are made of steel cables with wooden planks laid across barely wide enough for a person. These bridges probably were used from the ancient times to across rivers made out of ropes or natural creepers.
Walking over an old suspension foot bridge is an experience of its own with the stretching cables creaking and bouncing up and down and swinging sideways with every step.
There are many Sangili Palama bridges all over the country built since the colonial days. Some of them are listed below;
The most well known suspension foot bridge across the mighty Mahaweli Ganga (River) connecting the Peradeniya Botanical Garden and the Gannoruwa School of Agriculture. Two pairs of 9.5 meter high steel pillars hold the steel cables of the 127 meter long bridge. It has been built in 1931, during the British rule of then Ceylon.
There is another tourist attraction close to the turn off to the Madu Church where old hanging bridge lies across Malwathu Oya in the area of Kunchikulama. The bridge built during the colonial era is over 100 meters along and lies in a remote and a -picturesque area off the main road.
But the longest suspension foot bridge lies across Kelani River at Ruwanwella Built in 2007, this foot bridge connect the Ruwanwella town with villages such as Nikawalamulla and Kurupaththa. The bridge is 550 feet (170 meters) long and lies about 40 meters above the river where the Gurugoda Oya meets Kelani Ganga.
Another very interesting type of a bridge is the Road Rail Bridge, where the the same bridge is used for motor traffic as well as for trains. There are only two such bridges in Sri Lanka. The oldest being the Manampitiya Road Rail Bridge. Built in 1922, this bridge spans 296 meters across the Mahaweli River. The bridge is the only access point between Eastern Province and Central Province for about 80 km of the river. This bridge served the motorists and the railway for over 85 year and in 2007 A new bridge was constructed in parallel for motor traffic.
The second Road Rail Bridge lies in Valaichena which was constructed in 1924 just 2 years after the Manampitiya Bridge. This bridge was is across the Batticaloa Lagoon allowing both trains and vehicle traffic. This bridge is wider than the Manampitiya Bridge and was just wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This bridge too was closed for motor traffic in 2010 after a new bridge was constructed parallel to the Road Rail Bridge.
Then there is the mysterious Halaba Bridge between Badulla and Bandarawela. This spectacular 372 feet long steel bridge lies across Uma Oya at Halaba where no roads exists or ever existed. Why the English who ruled the country pored so much money and effort to build such a massive bridge in no where is a puzzle still not solved.
One belief is that the bridge was destined to be installed at Halawatha (Chillaw) but due to some communication mistake it was installed at Halaba.
This bridge is such a mystery, the government recently carried out some restorations of this bridge to nowhere.
In addition there are number of other bridges which have attracted tourists for their uniqueness.
One is the Nine Arch Bridge built between railway stations of Ella and Demodara. Locally called nine skies bridge, it is located almost 3100 feet above the sea level. This 99.6ft high bridge is built entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel and was commissioned in 1921.
This is one of the most iconic bridges in Sri Lanka & it’s a popular tourist destination for the past decade attracting many tourists travelling to Ella area.
And then there is the Fools Bridge in Ulapane so called for it look as the bridge is built upside down. Also known Upside Down Bridge this is not being used today.
There two known large brick bridges in Sri Lanka. The first one lies over Nanu Oya in Pilimathalawa. Built in 1926, this arch bridge consist of 3 eight meter arches with a total length of 28 meters. This bridge is currently not being used. This bridge lies close to the Open Highway Museum by the road.
The other Brick Arch Bridge lies in Mawanella, also on the Kandy road. This bridge has been built during 1832 – 33 period and has been built by captain Brown. This bridge is still being used for vehicle traffic and is considered the oldest bridge being used in Sri Lanka. The bridge is built over Ma Oya with 4 arches.
Kinniya Bridge is the longest bridge in Sri Lanka with a length of 396 metres (1,299 ft). It crosses the lagoon area surrounded by Koddiyar Bay and Tambalagam Bay. It links Trincomalee with Kinniya, enabling civilians to cross the Kinniya lagoon to reach the A15 highway.The bridge was completed and declared open on 20 October 2009 after the defeat of the LTTE terrorists who had destroyed most of the infrastructure in the region during the previous 30 years.