Leonardo inlet and estuary in present day Turkey approximately

Leonardo da
Vinci worked in Milan from 1482 to 1499 often commissioned by Ludovico Sforza,
Duke of Milan. This ended when French troops invaded Milan and overthrew
Ludovico Sforza at the start of the Second Italian War. Leonardo fled to Venice
and found new work as a military architect and engineer, both in Venice and
later in 1502 under Cesare Borgia. Around this time, he applied for a position
in the Court of Sultan Bayazid II in Constantinople. In his letter to the
sultan, Leonardo proposed four projects, one of which was an arched bridge.

 

In his
letter, Leonardo writes “I, your faithful servant, understand that it has
been your intention to erect a bridge from Galata (Pera) to Stambul… across the
Golden Horn (‘Haliç”), but this has not been done because there were no experts
available.  I, your subject, have determined how to build the bridge. It
will be a masonry bridge as high as a building, and even tall ships will be able
to sail under it.”

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The Golden
Horn the Leonardo references is an inlet and estuary in present day Turkey
approximately 1,000 miles east of where we are currently standing. It is 6
miles in length and 800 feet wide. Leonardo designed the arched bridge to be
1,201 feet long including the runway leading up to the span and 141 feet tall
to allow ships to pass underneath. The bridge had a tapered width, with the
smallest portion being in the center. While the mathematics for the parabolic
support needed for a bridge were not worked out until the 19th century,
Leonardo appears to have intuitively realized that this design provided strong
support for the bridge.

 

Compression
and tension

 

Leonardo’s letter
was received by the Ottoman Court of Bayazid II. However, the scribe identified
the letter’s author to be Ricardo the infidel of Genoa, not Leonardo da Vinci.
It wasn’t until 1952 that German scholar von Franz Babingen established that
the letter was da Vinci’s. Therefore, Leonardo never got a position at the
court and the bridge was never created. If the bridge had been built, it would
still be the longest single masonry arch span in the world.

 

While
Leonardo’s bridge was not constructed during his lifetime, a bridge was built
in Norway based on Leonardo’s design. Norwegian painter and artist Vebjorn Sand
formed a partnership with the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and built
the bridge in order to replace Norway’s Ugliest Bridge. The pedestrian bridge
was built over European route E18 in As, Norway between 1997 and 2001. The bridge
is smaller version of da Vinci’s parabolic arch design and is made of laminated
wood. It is 385 feet long with its longest span being 130 feet.

 

The bridge
in Norway launched the Leonardo Bridge Project. The project aims to build da
Vinci footbridges all around the world using local materials and artisans and
use it as a logo for all nations. While many bridges have been proposed, few
have been built. One bridge was built in 2016 in the Chateau du Clos Luce, da
Vinci’s home during the final years of his life. It is featured in the da Vinci
park. Other temporary da VInci bridges have been built using ice in Antarctica,
Greenland, Denmark, and Finland. Unfortunately, the project’s website is
currently shut down and no more bridges are currently in the works.