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Tower Bridge, London, England

August 2nd, 2005 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

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Tower Bridge, London, England

Tower Bridge is a bridge in London, over the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, which gives it its name. It is occasionally incorrectly referred to as London Bridge, which is in fact the next bridge upstream.

Construction of the bridge started in 1886 and took 8 years, employing 5 major contractors and 432 construction workers. Two massive piers containing over 70,000 tons of concrete were sunk into the river bed to support the construction. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. This was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland Stone, both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a more pleasing appearance.

Jones died in 1887, and his chief engineer, Sir John Wolfe-Barry, took over the project. Wolfe-Barry replaced Jones' original mediaeval style of facade with the more ornate Victorian gothic style that makes the bridge such a distinctive landmark.

The bridge was opened in 1894. The official opening ceremony was conducted by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark.

The high-level walkways between the towers gained an unpleasant reputation as a haunt for prostitutes and pickpockets and were closed in 1910. They have now been reopened as part of the Tower Bridge Experience, a museum/historical exhibition mostly housed in the bridge's twin towers. The exhibition also includes photos, holograms and a film detailing the build, along with access to the original steam engines that once powered the Bridge bascules, housed in a building close to the south end of the Bridge.

A "Behind the Scenes" tour can be booked in advance, on which it is possible to see the bridge's command centre (where the raising of the bridge is controlled when a vessel passes underneath). The bascules of the bridge are raised around 500 times a year.

Although river traffic is now a fraction of what it used to be, it still takes priority over road traffic. This nearly caused a diplomatic incident in 1997, when the motorcade of United States President Bill Clinton got stuck on Tower Bridge while the bascules were unexpectedly opened.

The bridge sits almost directly above the Tower Subway, the world's first underground tube railway (1870), which, until the Bridge was opened, was the shortest way to cross the river from Tower Hill to Tooley Street.

A new computer system was installed in 2000 to control the raising and lowering of the bascules remotely. Unfortunately this has proved less reliable than desired, resulting in the bridge being stuck in the open or closed positions on a number of occasions (most recently 2 June 2005).

(Source: Wikipedia)

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