by Rolf Brockschmidt
Elegant it was, the historic cable-stayed bridge of Dayr az-Zawr that spanned the Euphrates in eastern Syria, not far from where the Khabur flows into the large river. It brought some cosmopolitanism to this provincial capital. In 1977, during our second archaeological field survey for the Tübingen Atlas of the Near East (TAVO), we also set up our quarters in Dayr az-Zawr to investigate ancient settlement mounds (talls) from there upstream on the Khabur.
As a student, I was also interested in the everyday life of the people in the city, but architecturally, this administrative capital did not have much to offer at first glance. The few minarets of the mosques seemed somewhat strange, they were thicker, squatter and rounder at the top than their comparable brothers in the west of the country. It may be that the architecture of Iraq already showed its influence here.
The only sight and thus landmark of this remote town was precisely this cable-stayed bridge. It was built in 1927 during the French mandate (1920-1946). For a long time, it was the city’s only bridge over the Euphrates. However, even then, in the 1970s, the bridge was reserved for pedestrians only; another modern motor bridge was built downstream by the Syrian administration. We drove over it in the direction of Khabur, the tributary rich in antiquities, which had already become famous through Max von Oppenheim. Thus, on leaving the city towards Jazira to the east – historic Mesopotamia – the cable-stayed bridge could be admired on the left as it stretched unmistakably across the Euphrates, framed by trees, the last green before the steppe.This cable-stayed bridge with its four piers was technically a cable-stayed bridge – the cables stretching down from the pylons each crossed in the middle to form a knot, characteristic of this type of bridge. Albert Gisclard (1844-1909) had invented this system and had it patented; the cable-stayed bridges were built exclusively by the licensee F. Arnodin and his partner M. G. Leinekugel Le Cocq. The Dayr az-Zawr bridge was the penultimate of its kind. It is 460 metres long, or rather it was long, because – as the agencies reported – it was blown up during the clashes in and around the city on 17 August 2013.
Two of the pylons stand on small islands in the lazily flowing Euphrates, two others near the shore. Without the elegant rope construction, they look lost. The three openwork arches of each pylon are partly destroyed. They almost look like old-fashioned electricity pylons without wires, which now – depending on the angle of view – stick out of the reeds. Whether it will ever be rebuilt – who knows.
When we returned from the Jazira in the evening after exploring the area and crossed the modern bridge, the cable-stayed bridge signalled to us on the right: You will soon have made it and are home. It is only a bridge, one might object, but it was also a cultural monument of the early 20th century and an example of French engineering.
Featured image: Historic cable-stayed bridge of Dayr az-Zawr, seen from the modern motor bridge | Jaber Al-Azmeh, 2007
Many thanks to
Michel Wagner/F, http://www.timbresponts.fr/articles_et_publications/les_ponts_gisclard2.htm, Brigitte Leinekugel le Cocq/F (Sammlung Didier Leinekugel Le Cocq), Fonds Arnodin Leinekugel Le Cocq, 46 S, Archives de Brive/F
Published by Rolf Brockschmidt: Rolf Brockschmidt studied German and Dutch philology as well as history in Berlin and Utrecht and has worked as an editor since 1982 and as a writer for the Tagesspiegel since 2018. As an illustrator, he participated in the 1974 excavation at Kamid el Loz, Lebanon, and in the 1977 survey of the “Tübingen Atlas of the Middle East” at the Khabur, Syria