“I will be respected when I make Dacia a Roman province and when I cross the Danube and the Euphrates over the bridge,” said Marko Ulpije Nerva Trajan. His wish came true, he built a bridge that was the eighth wonder of the world at that time. For a thousand years, no building similar to the bridge on the lower Danube has been erected.
Trajan’s Bridge is located near the village of Kostol, 4km downstream from Kladovo. The bridge had 20 pillars in the Danube and from the moment it was built until the next millennium, it was the largest construction project and the longest bridge. Its length from the Dacian to the Moesian pillar was 1,127 meters, while the part that bridged the river was 1,071 m long. The width of the bridge was also impressive, 14.5 m, if it is known that the Roman roads were twice smaller, about 7 m wide.
The bridge was built in two years, from 103 to 105, between the First and Second Dacian Wars, with the aim of completely conquering Dacia by the Romans. Trajan’s Bridge was the most significant architectural idea and work of the greatest architect of that time, Apollodorus of Damascus. Using the technique of shifting the course of the river, which is recorded in the river history of architecture as the achievement of Thales from Miletus, related to the wars of the Greeks and Persians, Apollodorus finalized Trajan’s Way with Trajan’s Bridge over the Danube.
The works were performed by driving wooden pillars into the river bottom, then supporting pillars were placed, lined with clay. The pillars were filled with stone bound with mortar, and the outside was built of the famous Roman brick, examples of which can still be seen on the rest of the pillars of the bridge near the village of Kostol, not far from Kladovo. The arches of the bridge were carried by pillars 35 m high and 20 m wide, erected at a distance of 50 m. The Roman consul Dion Cassius also wrote about the appearance of the pillars in his “History of Rome”. He personally saw the remains of the bridge and noticed that they showed “that there is nothing that a man could not do.”. The bridge was entered by ramps or drawbridges, but the most important is that at the beginning and end of the bridge, or on the left and right side of the Danube, there were two identical fortifications, on the Dacian, today’s Romanian side, was Drobeta, and on the side of Roman Moesia, in today’s Serbia there was Transdrobeta and a fortification called Pontes.
Pontes is one of the most important Roman sites on the Danube and is a complex consisting of Trajan’s Bridge and a small auxiliary fortress. Pontes, a castrum or military camp, located on the high bank of the Danube, next to the bridge, was built by Trajan, and rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century. The fortification is square in shape, built of stone, with strong ramparts and square towers at the corners. The interior of the fortress was intersected by two main streets, and in the very center was the building of the main headquarters, which housed the commander of the legion. The castrum was entered through four interconnected gates and placed on opposite ramparts. To date, Pontes’ excavations have uncovered parts of the ramparts, all four gates, sixteen towers, parts of the building of the principle or command, workshops and warehouses. In 1850, near Trajan’s Bridge, fishermen found a bronze head that was part of a group of sculptures placed on the entrance portal of the bridge. Experts assume that Trajan’s father is depicted on the sculpture. Today, the original sculpture is kept in the National Museum in Belgrade, and its copy is in the Archaeological Museum of Đerdap in Kladovo.
A year after the completion of the construction of the bridge, in 106, Emperor Trajan and his legionaries stationed in Pontes set out on a campaign against Dacia. He translated his legions over the bridge, defeated the Dacian king Decebalus and declared Dacia a Roman province. Finally, large ore resources and Dacian treasures became Roman. The fact that Emperor Trajan took 331 tons of silver and 165 tons of gold as booty testifies to Dacia’s wealth. His victory over the Dacians was celebrated in Rome for 123 days, and 12,000 animals brought from Africa and Asia took part in the gladiatorial games organized as part of the victory.
The profile of Trajan’s Bridge was imprinted on Roman coins and carved on Trajan’s Column in Rome, which shows a scene in which Apollodorus of Damascus hands Trajan a plan of the bridge. What Trajan’s Bridge looked like can be seen in the Djerdap Archaeological Museum in Kladovo, where a copy of the frieze from Trajan’s Column is on display.
We do not know how much Trajan’s Bridge was in use after its construction. Did It collapse after a few decades on its own or was it on the orders of Trajan’s successor, Emperor Hadrian, destroyed to stop the penetration of barbarian tribes into the territory of the Roman Empire, remains unknown. From Trajan’s impressive building, a miracle on the Danube, there are pillars in the river and two pillars on its banks. The last research on Trajan’s Bridge was conducted in 2003. The rest of the pillars on the Serbian side of the bridge are preserved and protected and represent a cultural monument of exceptional importance. Trajan’s Bridge, as an important part of the Danube Limes in Serbia, is waiting to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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- Републички завод за запштиту споменика културе - Београд
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