Monday, January 9, 2023

Septimius Severus Karasu Bridge: Restoration Complete?

 Photos by Jack A. Waldron

Now I am getting confused!! Exactly how many 'Septimius Severus' bridges are there in Eastern Turkey?!?  Well (say the signs), there are three, so far!  And most likely, many more, because the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus was very active in northern Mesopotamia.
As with the Septimius Severus Bridges over the Nymphaeum river (aka. the Cendere Bridge) and that over the Göksu river, the Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river was also built to improve the quick transport of trade goods, materials, livestock, military personnel and equipment, over the tributaries that emptied into the Euphrates.

Having been born in Leptis (modern day Al-Khums, Libya), where the 3rd Augustan Legion was stationed, Septimius Severus was not only familiar with the Middle East and northern Mesopotamia, after becoming emperor in 193 CE, he was very active in the region.

As a matter of historical geographic importance, not to mention the importance of the construction of all these bridges (and more in the region) by Septimius Severus during his reign, he defeated his rival Pescennius Niger, who had been proclaimed emperor by the Syrian legions, at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia in 194 CE, which is not too distant from the bridge pictured here.

As large swaths of northern Mesopotamia were either directly or indirectly opposed to Rome and/or Septimius Severus, and the fact that a number of the vassal kingdoms supported Pescennius Niger, Septimius Severus sought to further suppress these lands, and to bring them under Roman control.

Later in the year of 194 CE, Septimius Severus moved south from Roman Kommagene, and east from Roman Antiokhia, to annex the Kingdom of Osroene/Osrohene, aka the Kingdom of Odessa, establishing it as a Roman province.

These lands began from the eastern bank of the Euphrates.  Just a stone throw from this series of Septimius Severus bridges, and the one pictured here.  Pictured above, an undated photo of a semi-intact Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river.  Pictured below, the tallest arch of this four/five arched bridge, as seen from northwestern bank.

With regard to the road and its series of bridges crossing the many tributaries that feed the Euphrates along its western bank, it is important to recognize that this road kept all transport within the Roman Empire prior to expansion beyond.

As you can see from these photos, the bridge had reached a state of near complete loss.  Who could say when the next excessive flood might wash it completely away?

I have commented on the restoration of antiquities in prior blogs, and I will say again, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.  The restoration of the right back support wall of the theater at Rhodiapolis ended in pure tragedy, fitting Ashlar Isodomic, Coursed Trapezoidal, Pseudo-Isodomic, and the poorest attempt at 'Lesbian' Polygonal, to a theater requiring pure 'Lesbian' Polygonal blocks up to the analemma back wall.

As long as the restoration is absolutely necessary (as in the case of this bridge), follows the original architectural design (barring historical modifications that make this impossible), and does not detract in the extreme from the aesthetics of the antiquity, well then, go for it.

Most of the upper sections of the bridge were lost, leaving only the tallest of the arches, and the feet of the other arches.  Luckily, historical drawings and early photos of the bridge, as well as the one remaining arch, have given the restoration the ability to replicate the original structure.

The Septimius Severus Bridge over the Karasu river was approximately 30 meters long, and 8 meters in height.  Pictured above, I am standing on the northwestern bank landing of the bridge looking to the opposite side of the river.

Pictured above, a water spout extends out from the same platform, which is designed to allow rainfall to escape the bridge, as originally, stone hand-rails blocked water from emptying over the edges as it cascaded down the ramparts on either side of the tallest arch (pictured below).

Pictured above, the remaining arch of this four-five arch bridge, which was the tallest.  Pictured below, the same arch in an undated photo.

Pictured below, the northwest bank landing platform of the bridge.

As in ancient times, clamps were placed between the cut stone blocks (either made of lead or iron), which helped to hold the structure together.

This bridge being purely Roman, and an important passage south from ancient Samsat to the Zeugma Euphrates crossing and checkpoint into and out of the Empire, it necessarily deserved its dedication.  As with the Cendere Bridge, there were two columns at each end of the bridge (totaling four), with one of them being dedicated to Septimius Severus.

Another of the columns was dedicated to his wife, Julia Domna, and the others to his sons Geta and Caracalla, with the dedication to Geta being defeated by Caracalla after Geta had been murdered by his brother.

As you can see from these photos, an awful lot of work went into the restoration of 'portions' of this bridge, but to my surprise, the bridge was only partially restored, and I don't understand how this could have happened.  Pictured below, an arial photo (not mine) of the completed incomplete restoration.

This bridge was locally significant during ancient times to modern day Elif, Hisar, and Hasanoglu, of which all three villages contain magnificent ornately sculpted monumental Roman tombs.  I will write about these in my next posts!

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ad Pontem Singae: Septimius Severus Goksu Bridge

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

Pictured above, the Goksu Bridge as seen from the Kizilin Village side of the structure.  The Goksu river in Adiyaman, Turkey, is a large tributary of the mighty Euphrates River.  According to the ancient Roman road map "Tabula Peutingeriana", the bridge was called "Ad Pontem Singae".

Goods and military transport along ancient routes were hindered by the such rivers feeding the Euphrates, and thus required major bridge works to make way for materials, control and conquest.  After all, this was a major section of the Silk Road.

In the Spring of 2017, I was on the hunt for one of these bridges, the Goksu Bridge, locally referred to as the Kizilin Koprusu, which translates into 'Red Bridge'.

As you can see on the map below, the Goksu Bridge is situated a little less than five kilometers to the north of the Euphrates (bottom right center).

Also marked on the map above (highlighted in yellow), is the Septimius Severus Karasu Bridge, which I will be writing about in my next post.  Back to the Goksu Bridge, about eight kilometers north of the bridge you can see Sesonk.  Sesonk is a spectacularly located tumulus at the top of a mountain, which I will also write about in a future post.  

During his reign, Roman Emperor Septimius Severus ordered the construction of many bridges throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, including the Cendere Bridge, the Karasu Bridge, and the Goksu Bridge, which was erected between 193-211 CE.  Bridge sketch by Galliazo.

For the Romans, the Goksu Bridge connected a military road that extended from Militene, Perre (aka Antiochia On The Taurus), and Samosata in the north/northeast to name just a few settlements, and Zeugma, Antiocheia, Tarsus, and many other villages, towns, and cities to the south/southwest and along the Euphrates.

Pictured below, a photo of me taking the photo above.  According to the locals and official government records (which I have not seen!), the bridge was blown-up with dynamite some 200 years ago by an egregious farmer (more on that later).  This is quite interesting, since Alfred Nobel (yes, that Nobel) hadn't invented dynamite until 1866, so, let's give the years a bit of wiggle-room.

Of course, gunpowder could have been used to blow-up the bridge, but, why do it?!  Well, as we know, this bridge is located on the main route to and from the western Crescent region along the Silk Road, and apparently, the caravan leaders would pasture or graze their camels, horses, and other livestock along the route, and the bridge was a major stopping point and/or bottleneck for the caravans.

As a result of the bridge, its bottleneck, convenience as a resting point, and its location amongst the fertile fields, local farmers took a negative view.  Perhaps there was also a village rivalry in play, where one sides village farmer/s would drive his/her beasts across the bridge in order to graze them on opposing village fields.

Others say that the bridge was being used to supply arms to an opposing army, and thus became a logistical target.  Regardless of the specifics, at some point around 150-200 years ago, this most magnificent bridge was blown up as a result of anger amongst the locals for some wrong that had been committed.  

Upon my visit to the bridge, only two supporting arches remained.  Little did I know, that major plans for the bridge were already underway.

When I arrived in the village of Kizilin, there were no signs pointing to the direction of the bridge, and as I was still not equipped with a smart phone, the obvious thing to do was to ask someone!

I happened to pass by a block structure that had had a lot of noise and a heap of dust flying out from it.  As it would turn out, that dust was the result of milling wheat into flour.  The gentleman you see pictured standing with me above is the miller of that shop.  He kindly agreed to take me to the bridge, which was located over 5 kilometers northeast of the village, with only field paths taking you to the structure.

The middle arch of the three arch bridge was 32 meters across, and 31 meters above the ground.  The length of the bridge totals 150 meters, while its width is 7.8 meters.  Due to similarities with the Cendere Bridge (aka Septimius Severus Nymphaeum Bridge), it is dated to the same time period.

Perhaps most important as to the remarkable preservation of the surviving structure, is the placement of the feet of the bridge on solid rock on both sides of the river.

Of course, it is also important to the preservation of the bridge that its architectural design is superb, and that the cut stone is precise with perfect placement.  Each cut stone is estimated to weigh between 1 and 1.5 tons.

As you can see in the photo above, even while lacking the support of stone under the foot of the bridge, the tight fit and amalgam of binding material keeps the structure from tumbling down the bank.

The combination of photos pictured above, and the completed panoramic view seen below is the result of a lot of time spent using Photoshop.  My old Nikon Coolpix 5100, that I bought on sale in Tokyo in 2008, has been a real trooper that I continue to use in 2022.

However, the wide shot is lacking as an option, and todays posts demand more, so, I am going to begin using a new GH5s, though I have yet to break it out of its bag.

Here are the three photos I used to make the panoramic picture shown above.

With its impressive pixel count, video capabilities, and overall spec improvement over my Nikon P5100, I look forward to using the new GH5s from 2022/3 on, that said, it's so much larger and heavier.

According to T.A. Sinclair, who has written of an older previous bridge over the Goksu river, the original bridge crossed at an angle, as opposed to squarely spanning the river.

Sinclair wrote in 1985:

"The former bridge crossed the river, not at a right angle but from roughly southwest to northeast.  The difference of alignment made for a more shallow angle at the bend.  The northwards-descending part of the ramp on the east side was aligned a little east of the present one.  The westerly piers were on the same spot, whereas the former easterly pier was necessarily north of the present one."

"1. West pier, north and south faces, at the western end.  2. North of the present east pier, stepped seats for the old pier in the rock.  3. East arm of the carriageway.  The old western face of this arm, beneath the former arch and a little further north, have been incorporated into the present ramp.  But since the former ramp was aligned a little east of the present one, the former south west corner is left projecting."


Arches built to last!  It goes without saying, that the Romans built things to last.  Following Byzantine domination of the area, it has been reported that the Goksu Bridge was viewed by the Islamic successors as one of the wonders of world.

I remember that upon my visit I had a strong feeling of how it was such a shame that the bridge was lost in the middle of nowhere, and that it would probably never be restored, because this structure would never be on any tourists radar.  I had hoped that I was mistaken!

I finally climbed up on to the remains of the lofty pile to look out over the river to the other side.  I could now really understand the significance of this bridge during ancient times, as it made everything happening in all directions just that much easier.

Transport of commerce, military, and logistical contemplation by all near and far.  This bridge mattered, greatly.  The massive ramp leading up to the 90 degree turn at the top of eastern side of the bridge is quite impressive (seen in the middle left of the photo below).

The Göksu river isn't always this tame.  Even though the river on this day appears to be quite manageable to cross, as ramparts could have been cut into the rock bank in order to let wagons pass, as one could see from my visit to Arsameia, the weather in this area can turn violent very quickly, as the nearby high mountains create perfect conditions for Mother Nature to drown your caravan.

Since my visit in 2017, a most unexpected undertaking surprised me beyond belief.  As I was processing the photos for this post back in 2021, I was shocked to see that the Goksu Bridge was in the middle of a complete restoration!

These photos were not taken by me, but, by the Adiyaman, Besni, Municipality, Kultur Department, etc., so credit goes to them.  I really do hope to revisit the bridge someday!

I can only imagine the Romans building a similar support construction in order to accomplish the same feat.  Things really haven't changed so much over past 2000 years.

The photo below comes from an archeological news site, and was found while I was writing this post.

And finally, celebrating the complete restoration of the Goksu Bridge!  Again, this photo was found during my writing of this post HERE.

Here are a few departing photos by my friend Demet, who captured the more human side of this visit.

Pictured above, the miller who showed us the way walking through the yellow flowered fields of Spring in Adiyaman.  Below, he is explaining something about the bridge.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

**If you'd like to help with future postings, please feel free to support them through PATREON: