It was the first bridge on river Minho, an engineering milestone in antiquity. Of Roman origin but often reconstructed, the silhouette of its central arches is one of the symbols of Ourense.
This Roman bridge is one of the historical landmarks of the city, linked to its origins. When it was built it was a strategic passage, the only point in many kilometres to cross river Minho. Rebuilt in the 13th century (hence its pointed arches, striking for their height) and consolidated in the 17th century, it was declared a Historic Monument in 1961, along with the nearby Chapel of Our Lady of Los Remedios. You must cross it while walking the Mozarabic Way – Via de la Plata to Santiago de Compostela.
According to tradition, it dates back to the time of Trajan. Nevertheless, its structural characteristics make it closer to the time of Augustus. From the first Roman bridge are only preserved, as silent witnesses of the past, some rusticated blocks of the bases. If the central span had the same light as the current one it would certainly be one of the most extensive one of the empire, explaining its constant state of ruin. According to the itinerary of Antoninus, a document collecting the routes of the Roman Empire, it would have been part of a secondary road on the route XVIII that linked the cities of Bracara Augusta (nowadays Braga) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga).
Its importance is such that it is represented in the city’s coat of arms, but with a tower. This tower existed and was demolished in 1839, along with another one of the Carlist period.
The first reconstruction of which we are aware (1228-1229) was sponsored by Bishop Lorenzo with the support of King Ferdinand III. It is then that the current profile with the pointed arch and ramps on the rise was given, although a bad foundation would cause its ruin. The ultimate solution for consolidation came in the 17th century, applied by Melchor de Velasco. Thr bridge also had a tower (appearing on the city’s coat of arms) which was demolished in the 19th century. Attached to the old bridge, with which it forms a historic monument, is the chapel of Our Lady of Los Remedios (16th century).
Today the bridge retains 7 of the 11 primitive arches. In the first one of the left bank you can still see the Roman construction (indicating the height of the bridge). It measures 370 metres long, with a central arch 43 meters wide by 38 high over the water level. It is built of local granite. At the southern entrance, on the left bank, you can see the Casa do Legoeiro (nowadays the Regional Government’s Tourist Office).
For many centuries it was known as the Ourense Bridge or the Main Bridge, as opposed to other smaller bridges. Today the names of Old Bridge and Roman Bridge live together.
The River Fords
Until the New Bridge was built in the 20th century, Ourense only had this brigde to cross river Minho. However, there was a ford in the dry season (just where the Vao Footbridge stands today), and a port for boats, which was called “Porto Auriense”.
Formerly on the outskirts of the city, it was a crossing for travellers, merchants and pilgrims, and also frequented by hoodlums. The nearby chapel of Our Lady of Los Remedios, built in the 16th century by a testamentary order, helped to rehabilitate the area.