Adjacent to Victoria Falls, border of Zimbabwe and Zambia
|Courtesy Flickr/Christopher Jowell
"Build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains as they pass will catch the spray from the Falls."
- Cecil Rhodes, former governor of Rhodesia (today the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe), as quoted in The Great Zambezi Bridge by Chief Engineer G.A. Hobson (1922)
In 1904, workers for South African Railways had laid more than 1,600 miles of track on the "Cape to Cairo" route proposed by British administrator and financier Cecil Rhodes - who hoped one day to run tracks the length of the African continent, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt. When the railway builders reached majestic Victoria Falls, they began construction in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Set in a remote section of the African rain forest, Victoria Falls stretches nearly a mile across the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, before dropping more than 400 feet into a deep gorge.
The Victoria Falls Bridge - built just downstream from the falls and supported by a parabolic arch spanning 500 feet - was fashioned from materials shipped on the rail line and transported across the gorge by cableway. Completed in just 14 months, the Victoria Falls Bridge opened Zambia's copper fields in particular, and central Africa in general, to modern-day transportation and commerce.
1. British explorer David Livingstone first came upon the falls of the Zambezi River in 1855 and named them for Queen Victoria. The billowing mist and echoing roar of the falls -- which, during the rainy season, can be seen and heard as far away as 25 miles -- were known by the Kololo natives in the region as "Mosi-oa-Tunya," or "The Smoke that Thunders."
2. Owned originally by Rhodesia Railways, Victoria Falls Bridge is now jointly owned by the national railways of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia has been an independent republic of the British Commonwealth since 1964. Southern Rhodesia became known as Zimbabwe after adopting majority rule in 1979.
3. Victoria Falls Bridge measures 650 feet in total length and stands 400 feet above the river, nearly 3,000 feet above sea level. Construction was accomplished by building anchored cantilevers from the edges of the gorge toward the center.
4. Built to carry two railway lines, the bridge was reconfigured in 1929, when the deck by was widened by 13 feet and raised by nearly five feet, to accommodate a single rail line, two automobile lanes, and two pedestrian sidewalks.
5. In the years after Southern Rhodesia declared independence in 1970, negotiations to urge the creation of a majority-ruled government took place in a railroad car parked on Victoria Falls Bridge. This spot was chosen because it was equally accessible from the borders of both Southern Rhodesia and Zambia.
6. Victoria Falls Bridge has been cited for its elegance of design and responsiveness to a natural setting as well as its practical application. According to the International Section of the American Society of Civil Engineering, the bridge "embodies the best abilities of the engineer to enhance the beauty of nature rather than detract from it."