(No.3, Vol.9, Jun-Jul 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

By Prof. Trinh Sinh

Photos by Le Bich

Vietnamese has a bridge to be nostalgic about. They connect roads and
riversides. They also witness dates, vows and love stories:

“Lovingly, longingly, and tenderly

Thrice a day out to the bridge, waiting”

skewed bamboo bridges, tottery monkey bridges, shaky coconut bridges, or
stronger wooden or stone bridges, they all connect villages together; they all
expand the vision and feelings of Vietnamese souls. But there is one special
kind of bridge, not only painstaking to build, but also one that beautifies
emotions and memories, the tile-roofed ones.

to official numbers, there remain 12 tile-roofed bridges in the whole country. Nam
Dinh has Co Le, Luong Kermis, Upper Kermis, and the Roofed Bridges. Hanoi has
Nhat Tien Kieu, Nguyet Tien Kieu (at Thay Pagoda), Binh Vong and Khum Bridges. Ninh
Binh has one at Phat Ziem. Hue has Thanh Toan Bridge. Quang Nam has the Pagoda
Bridge at Hoi An.

200 years ago there used to be many more tile-roofed bridges. The “Dai Nam
Unified Records” book described many famous ones. Those historians of the
Nguyen Dynasty era must have noted the special charm of this kind of bridges,
because they put them in a distinct class.

Very few, if any, know that there
used to be a famous tile-roofed bridge standing where today modern fly-overs top
one another: Cau Giay (Paper Bridge). This nearly 15m long bridge across To
Lich River used to be called Yen Quyet Bridge. At the time, the water in the river
was still clear. Many such tile-roofed bridges have disappeared without trace
in the same fashion, such as Do Bridge at the center of today’s Ha Dong District,
or Tay Dang Bridge at Ba Vi District, Van Tu Bridge at Thuong Phuc (today’s
Thuong Tin district) of Hanoi etc. Outside of Hanoi, there was Soc Dang (or Te)
Bridge at Doan Hung (Phu Tho Province), and Bau (also called An Nhan) bridge in
Hai Zuong Province.

of such tile-roofed bridges listed by Nguyen era historians have been destroyed
to be replaced by new ones. The remaining ones are truly a valuable heritage of
the nation. Some of them even have benches and handrails installed. They are
multi-dimensional, physically and spiritually. They are not just bridges for
people to pass through without noticing them. Travelers stop there for a brief
rest. Villagers stop there to enjoy a breeze and even a blissful cup of tea on
the way home from a hard day working in the fields. Young people go on dates
there. These bridges strengthen community bonds and adorn the localities and
the heart of those who live near them.

bridges sometimes even serve spiritual purposes. Hoi An’s Pagoda Bridge is a
typical example, with an altar and a statue of Northern King, the Tamer of the
Storms inside. The forms of the structure, especially the curved lines of the
roofs intentionally remind everyone of the temples elsewhere, Buddhist and
Taoist. It couldn’t be more suitable to stand above water and pray to the Water
Tamer for good weather and good crops. Nothing can be more important than the
harmony of the circulation of water in a land of rice cultivation. 

Some of the most beautiful tile-roofed
bridges have become big tourist attractions. Take for example the Binh Vong
bridge in the Thuong Tin district of Hanoi. It’s a wooden bridge with five
compartments and tiled roofs. The rooftop is decorated with sacred animals, the
dragons are at two ends and at the base of the pillars. Inside, it has benches and
handrails along the sides for everyone to sit. The walls have windows with the
Buddhist symbol of “Being and not being.” The bridge looks like a pagoda
hovering over water.

example is Hoi An’s famous “Lai Vien Kieu” (A bridge to receive guests from afar).
It was built in the 17th century (during the era of Nguyen Lords
expanding southward) by Japanese merchants, who came here and set an outpost
for commerce and who wanted to mark the presence of Japan. The roof tiles are
Japanese with typical patterns. Monkeys and dogs, which are Japanese sacred
animals, guard the two ends of the bridge. Several centuries after it was
built, the bridge still receive tourists from all over the world, serving well
the purpose expressed by its name.

is worth mentioning the unique bridge at Luong Kermis, Hai Hau District of Nam
Dinh Province. Its roof looks like a capsized boat. It also has benches along
both sides for passers to take a rest and enjoy a cool breeze. The bridge was
built in the 16th century, among the oldest.

Pagoda, in Quoc Oai District of Hanoi has two tile-roofed bridges. The one
named Nhat Tien (Sun Angel) leads to an islet in a pond, and the other, named
Nguyet Tien (Moon Angel) leads to the mountain behind. Both of them were built
by Phung Khac Khoan the Top Scholar from Bung himself.

to dreamy Hue often come to see the bridge of Thanh Toan, about 7-8 km from the
city. The enameled roof tiles here are of the pipe shaped kind. The bridge has seven
compartments, and the middle one has an altar for the bridge builder.

bridge of Phat Ziem, Ninh Binh, built in the era of Nguyen Dynasty is also a
remarkable heritage beside the local famous stone church. This 36m long bridge
is perhaps the longest one, having as many as 12 compartments.

tile-roofed bridge is a unique architectural masterpiece. Ancient people have
really blown a soul into the bridges that crossed rivers and connected human

I wish the river be no wider than a palm span

So I could bridge it with
my brassier for you to come…”