An Engineering Marvel
One of the engineering marvels that was built by the Portuguese and which is still going strong despite its long history is without doubt the Ponte de Linhares causeway, popularly known as Patto Bridge. It was considered as the longest bridge in Asia then when it was built in the year 1634 within one year. It linked Panaji from near today’s head post office to the village of Ribandar, known formerly as Raya’s bundar (port).
The bridge spanning 3150 metres along the River Mandovi was constructed during the tenure of Viceroy Conde de Linhares Dom Miguel de Noronha in Portuguese Goa. Though Panaji was the Portuguese headquarters in the 17th century, there was no land route from the former capital Old Goa as both Panaji and Ribandar were separated by a marshy swamp. Commuting was possible only by boats and canoes till the time the causeway was constructed. The Linhares bridge helped in shortening the transit time between Velha Goa (Old Goa) and Panaji. Later it also paved the way into making Panaji, located strategically close to the river mouth, the new capital of Goa. Velha Goa was abandoned because of the plague in the 18th century and Panaji was established as the new capital city in 1843.
The bridge was designed and built by the Jesuits who were known for their mastery in science and engineering. The alignment itself makes it a phenomenal piece of engineering as two straight arms from each side meet almost at the centre, forming an angle pointing towards the river, thereby mitigating hydrostatic pressure on the structure. On the southern side of the causeway saltpans were developed.
It must have been a gigantic task, undertaking such a massive project to be built on marshy land.. It was a time when construction material was transported by the sea route from wherever the materials were sourced. The bridge’s laterite arches were laid on jambo wood piling with the surface so planned that even at the highest level of the water, the bridge remains above submergence level. The Panaji side of the bridge’s arches are elevated in order to facilitate small vessels to pass under it.
Apart from some minor repairs undertaken by the Public Works Department, the Patto bridge that was built for light horse carriages has withstood the test of time, weathering climatic changes and also the heavy modern vehicular traffic. The bridge still stands tall even as a modern bridge over the Mandovi once collapsed not too far away. The bridge is testimony to the engineering skills of a bygone era.