The Construction Work

The engineer Alberto de Palacio and the constructor Ferdinad Arnodin first considered the construction of the Vizcaya Bridge in 1888. The main feature of the modernity which inspired their project and which was expressed in the Bridge with avant-garde language and monumental elegance were means economy, naked construction and the practical use of technology at the service of the social needs.

Once approved by the Ministry for Promotion the project became a reality. The concession was ordered on 12th February 1890, less than three months after the constitution of the company M. A. de Palacio y Cía., a construction company and the first concessionary of the construction work.

The construction of the Bridge was financed by a small group of local entrepreneurs led by Santos López de Letona, an industrialist who became wealthy in Mexico in the textile sector. The Bridge came into being as a result of a private initiative so as to attend to the demand of half a million passengers who at the time crossed the river every year on rowing boats. It is still a private company but with over three hundred shuttles per day and an annual average of four million pedestrians and half a million vehicles.

At the company’s first Shareholders Meeting, Mr Alberto de Palacio manifested his enthusiasm, considering various complementary projects which were received with unanimous and excited agreement. These included the preparation of the central walkway to allow pedestrians to cross, and the preparation of lifts with privileged panoramic views. More than a century later, the company El Transbordador de Vizcaya, current concessionary, would put into practice some of those unfulfilled dreams.

After the team had been prepared and the project had been fine-tuned, the construction work started on 10th April 1890 on the Portugalete side. The contractor was Mr Arnodín, who was selected by Mr Alberto Palacio following the tragic disappearance of the first contractor, Mr Alonso, who was never able to start the work.

The first actions were focused on the land prospection. This was a problem for the work due to its sandy nature, and in fact the chosen site had been a beach not long before.

Having overcome the hitches which arose during the land preparation, the works continued at a very fast pace. Following the excavations, the foundations were started on which the towers would be based and which were raised with the aid of wooden scaffolding. The joints in the metallic structure which were initially pieced together with bolts were finally replaced by rivets – this was well before welding was used.

After the towers had been completed, the guy wires were installed which enable the assembly of the top or beams which united both banks of the river supported on the towers.

The assembly was also performed in sections, which were hoisted to their final location using a barge. This part of the work was the most complex according to the construction chronicles.

The dream became a reality before the eyes of the astonished residents, and to the pride of the construction team, particularly Mr Alberto Palacio. The structure of the new bridge rose up like a patron and from high up the scenery could, for the first time, be appreciated. It was still unknown that the future would make it an extraordinary witness to the changes that were to come. With the main structure practically complete, it was now time to construct the gondola which would transfer the passengers.

The original gondola was made from planks, and reinforced with sheets where it was anchored to the suspension cables. It was a time of clear social differences which the Bridge could not ignore; it had two types of passengers in the gondola, separated by a net. The first class passengers enjoyed three rows of covered benches situated on both sides of the gondola, while the second class passengers had to share the uncovered central part with goods, bundles and livestock.

The building work was not complete, and what had until very recently been a project of dubious viability, even questioned by its own promoters, was now a reality.

The gondola was loaded with 26 tonnes which together with its own weight made a total of 40 tonnes. This was four times the normal weight of the maximum operating load. Various trips were made under these conditions at different speeds to check how the new construction would cope.

The results were completely satisfactory which left one final job: to prepare its inauguration.