Crossing Octagon Lake, Buckinghamshire, England Designer/Engineer Unknown Completed c. 1755 Length 92 feet (28 meters)

Material Stone Type Arch

A Renaissance design was used to encourage free trade in the British Empire.

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), the most influential architect of the Italian Renaissance, was the first to publish extensively on the subject of bridges. In the third book of his Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (Four Books of Architecture, 1570), Palladio reconstructed various antique Roman bridges and published plans for wood and masonry bridges, including his proposal for the Rialto Bridge (see here). Through his writing and buildings, Palladio’s ideas spread from Venice throughout Europe to such far-flung places as the United States, Imperial Russia, and the West Indies, embraced for their fundamental clarity and harmonious proportions.

In the early eighteenth century, Palladio’s style was domesticated in rural England. British gardeners, tired of the formal geometry of French gardens, began to create luxuriant gardens for their wealthy patrons that, although highly orchestrated, strived to show nature at her most natural. In the new English garden, the landscape had a relaxed, irregular form featuring expanses of grass, groves of trees, and artfully placed artificial lakes. For the architects of the English landscape garden, the quotation of the Palladian bridge, even in a free ensemble, signified both an homage and an obligation.



Beginning in 1730, the grounds at Stowe House, a vast estate in Buckinghamshire, England, were transformed into this new, enlightened garden style under the direction of William Kent (1685-1748) and later Lancelot “Capability” Brown (1716-1783). Poet Alexander Pope also weighed in on the design. The Stowe landscape, which would evolve over a century, contains some thirty-eight architectural ornaments, or follies, including a bridge derived from Palladio’s design, which impart a classical, timeless character to the estate. There is no known record of whoKent, Brown, or another partydesigned the Palladian Bridge.

The Palladian Bridge, as well as its near twin at Wilton House, is less a copy of the proposed Rialto Bridge design than a reassemblage of Palladio’s most characteristic elements. Like the Rialto Bridge concept, it includes an Ionic colonnade, arched and pedimented end pavilions, and stepped approaches. The bridge is placed between the formal gardens and the grounds landscaped in the new English style.

Throughout history, bridges have been used as symbols of transition. They have been employed as potent metaphors for the soul’s dangerous passage to the afterworld and, in more contemporary times, as symbols of the passage of time and the stages of life’s journey. Evoking Palladio’s rational order, the Palladian Bridge was a hinge between formal garden designs and those liberated in England. However, it also retains a metaphoric rolepunctuating the vista at the edge of a valley called the Elysian Fields, it conjures the soul’s crossing.

Though it was never realized, Palladio considered his design for the Rialto Bridge, a detail of which is seen here, his best.

Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham (1675-1749), the Whig politician who inherited his family estate at Stowe, used the bridge to telegraph his strong belief in the importance of exploration and free trade to the British Empire.

In the eighteenth century, wooden truss bridges were often called Palladian bridges. This one, the much-admired Mathematical Bridge at Queens’ College in Cambridge, England, was pegged, not nailed, together in 1749.

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