The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a large steel arch bridge connecting the city center with the residential areas in the north. Thanks to its sheer size and scenic location, the bridge has become one of Australia’s most famous landmarks.
Plans for a bridge were already made in the 19th century and in 1900 tenders were invited. None of the 24 submitted proposals were deemed satisfactory and the plans were shelved until 1922 when the New South Wales Department of Public Works, supervised by the chief engineer John J.J. Bradfield, prepared a general design for the new bridge. This time, a worldwide tender produced a winning design by Dorman and Long, an English firm.
The design consisted of an enormous single-span bridge with four pylons. Construction of the bridge started in 1924 and by the end of 1929 construction of the arch had begun. First, the 503-meter-long span was built from each shore. Long cables anchored underground held the two structures back. After the two parts joined in October 1930 the deck was built from the center out. In 1932, after 1400 men had worked on the bridge for 8 years, the bridge was finally opened.
The total cost of the bridge was $A13.5 million. The loan was finally paid off by toll fees in 1988. The toll fee is still levied, it now finances the maintenance of the Harbour Bridge and the construction of the Harbour Tunnel, built in 1992.
There was also a large social cost: the Bradfield Highway leading towards the bridge cuts ‘The Rocks‘ – Sydney’s historic district – in two. Hundreds of buildings in the bridge’s path were demolished. The families unfortunate enough to live there were displaced without any compensation, unimaginable today.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is not only one of the city’s most photographed landmarks, it also offers some of the best views of the city, the harbor and especially the Sydney Opera House. From the bridge’s pedestrian walkway – accessible via the stairs from Cumberland Street – you have a great view towards the east (and the Opera House). The Pylon Lookout – accessible via the walkway – has an even better vantage point.
From a platform close to the top of the 68 meter (223 ft.) high pylon, you have a beautiful 360 degree view over Sydney. There’s also an exhibition about the construction of the bridge inside the pylon.
The most spectacular way to visit the bridge is the popular BridgeClimb, a three and a half hour tour with a two-hour walk to the top of the arch, 134 meter above sea level. Safety precautions and instructions include a ‘Climb Simulator’ and a blood alcohol reading. If you do have alcohol in your blood, you will not be able to participate, and you will not get another chance, so make sure you get there sober. There are day, twilight and even night climbs. You will not be able to take a camera with you during the climb, but the guide always takes a group photo, so you will have some souvenir.