One of the world’s longest suspension footbridges even today, the Ponte Sospeso was built in Italy in 1923 to help employees in a local pin factory get to work.
At the start of the 20th century, the Società Metallurgica Italiana made metal products in a number of manufacturing plants around Italy. One of these was a pin and nail factory in the village of Mammiano Basso, deep in the Tuscan hills. Many workers at this factory came from the neighbouring village of Popiglio, on the other side of the Lima River valley.
Getting to work from Popiglio was hard. In the summer, workers went down into the valley and crossed the river on stepping stones, relying on crumbling fenceposts for handholds. In winter and spring, rains and meltwater meant that the river was high and the workers had to take a 4-mile (6-kilometre) detour around the valley twice daily.
The factory director, Vincenzo Scotti Douglas, had trained as an engineer in the United States. In 1920, he designed a footbridge and had masons and metalworkers from the factory construct it. It took over two years to build, but in January 1923, it was opened for use by the factory workers from Popiglio.
The metal footbridge is 745 feet (227 metres) long, but only 2.6 feet (80 centimetres) wide. It is secured using a suspension design with the main load-bearing cables secured to the Popoglio side of the valley. Records do not say whether there was much rejoicing, but it can be safely assumed that commuting workers found crossing the footbridge preferable to fording a river or a long hike.
The factory is long since closed and few people walk from Popiglia to Mammian Basso any more. In 2006, title for the world’s longest footbridge passed to Kokone Yume bridge in Japan. But today, the Ponte Sospeso continues to be maintained as an attraction for the tourists who trouble to find it.
Know Before You Go
The Ponte Sospeso is about 90 minutes' drive from Florence. There is some car parking at the entrance. Parking and use of the bridge are both free.There are no toilet facilities at the top of the bridge, even in the small bar, but on the eastern side an informal parking lot (free) directly under the bridge is close to a bar/restaurant which has a single (disabled accessible) toilet. Be prepared to wait a while at weekends.