Marco Polo Bridge

Marco Polo BridgeMarco Polo Bridge (literally the Bridge Over the Reed Ditch) has been made famous by at least three historic events: Marco Polo's description, Emperor Qianlong's inscription and the outbreak of the War against the Japanese Aggressors. Officially the bridge was called the "Lugou Stone Bridge," and it was built completely of white stone and looked majestic with a total of 485 stone lions lined on-the balustrades of both sides. Apart from minor maintenance repairs made during sub-sequent dynasties, historical records show that it underwent a major restoration in 1689 after two arches had been washed away by floods. It was on that occation that the river was renamed Yongding (Eternal Stability), but the name of the bridge remained Lugou.

Marco Polo, the great Italian traveller, saw it towards the end of the year 1276 during his tours in China under the Yuan Dynasty. In the book of travelogues bearing his name, which came out years later, Marco Polo gave a detailed description of it:"... a very great stone bridge ... For you may know that there are few of them in the world so beautiful, nor its equal ... It is made like this. I tell you that it is quite three hundred paces long and quite eight paces wide, for ten horsemen can well go there one beside the other ... It is all of grey marble very well worked and well founded. There is above each side of the bridge a beautiful curtain or wall of flags of marble and pillars made so, as I shall tell you ... And there is fixed at the head of the bridge a marble pillar, and below the pillar a marble lion ... very beautiful and large and well made." This description earned the bridge its name, Marco Polo, in the Western World. However, Marco Polo may have suffered a slip of memory when he gave the number of arches of the bridge as 24 instead of the 11 that it has always had.

Incidentally it may be interesting to note that Marco Polo called the bridge "Pulisangin." This is because, as some scholars point out, the upper course of the river Lugou or Yongding is the River Sanggan, and the river itself may have been known at that time as Sanggan or Sangin. As for "puli", it came from Persian word pul, which means bridge. Therefore, Pulisangin was an international coinage for the "bridge on the Sanggan River" - a name highly indicative of the amount of intercourse between China at the time and countries to her west.

Almost from its very inception, namely in the Mingchang period(1190-1208) of the Jin Dynasty, the bridge was listed by travelers and men of letters as one of the "Eight Scenic Spots of Yanjing (Beijing)" under the descriptive title "Lugou Xiaoyue" or Moon Over Lugou at Daybreak (The Morning Moon Over Lugou Bridge). Substitutions and rewordings were made in the listing of the eight subsequent periods under the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties; but "Lugou Xiaoyue" has remained throughout. In 1751 Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) personally edited the poetic titles for the eight views of Beijing, and wrote in his elegant hand the inscriptions for the steles marking the respective beauty spots, including the "Lugou Xiaoyue" tablet which still stands on guard by the Bridge.

Less than two hundred years after the erection of the stele, the Bridge witnessed, in July 1937, the Japanese aggressors provoking Chinese troops into a protracted war of resistance ending only in 1945;but the Bridge itself had been largely spared the ravages of war. For this and other reasons, the Marco Polo Bridge has been a favourite subject for Chinese poets and painters. And ancient pictures of the Bridge are of particular interest to scholars and historians.

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