There is something about bridges that makes them one of engineering’s most iconic feats. The ability to build something over the sea, to connect two places, to open up new horizons – it’s something which we feel every time we go over a bridge. From the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Tower Bridge in London to the Ponte Vecchio in Venice, bridges represent promise and opportunity.
Often, it’s not the size that makes bridges so impressive, it is more just the fact that they exist, that we have found a way to create a solution to the problem of wanting to get from place to place without having to hop on a plane or a boat. In the case of the Oresund Bridge, which runs between Sweden and Denmark though, size really does matter.
There are all kinds of reasons to admire the beautiful bridge that links these Scandinavian neighbours and its 7,845-metre length is certainly one of them. For context, the Golden Gate bridge is almost three times shorter than the Oresund.
In fact, it is Europe’s fifth longest bridge and is an engineering marvel that is stunning, both from a distance and up close when you are crossing it, whether by road or rail.
The idea to build the bridge was first conceived all the way back in 1936, when Denmark was first discussing the idea of a national motorway system and thought that it would make sense to extend the network into Sweden – in order to make driving between the two countries easier. However, the proposal was put to one side as World War Two started and attention was turned elsewhere.
After the war, there were a number of government commissions and studies, on both sides of the Oresund strait, which looked into the possibility and feasibility of building the bridge. These reports seemed to suggest it would be an excellent idea. However, as often happens in situations like these, the Danes and Swedes could not agree.
Some groups felt that the link should run between Helsingor and Helsingborg, two fairly small cities, where the space between Denmark and Sweden is at its narrowest, while others argued it should run between Malmo and Copenhagen, two much bigger and more significant cities. There were other points of disagreement but in the end, an agreement was struck in 1973. However, an economic downturn meant the project was shelved in 1978.
It seemed like the bridge was never going to be built and that the idea would remain just that – an idea. Finally, though, the countries entered into a stable economic period and another agreement was made in 1991.
The countries noted it was to be built in order to improve the connection between Malmo and Copenhagen – as well as a part of Sweden’s bid to become a part of the European Community (now the EU), which it joined in 1995.
Both Sweden and Denmark are blessed with a number of leading engineering firms, including Skansa, Højgaard & Schultz and Monberg & Thorsen. These companies all joined forces, along with German company Hochtief, to build the bridge after it was designed by Danish firm COWI.
They began in mid-1995 and managed to have it finished by August of 1999, a very impressive feat when you consider the scale of the task.
During construction they found 16 unexploded World War Two bombs, had to build a tunnel section along with the bridge itself, and accidentally skewed a part of that tunnel – yet they finished three months ahead of schedule.
It cost around €4 billion, however, the governments expect to recoup this by 2037 from tolls paid by cars crossing the bridge.
In order to celebrate its cross-cultural value, its completion was marked by Denmark’s Prince Frederik and Sweden’s Princess Victoria meeting in the middle. Its official opening, on the 1st of July 2000, was hosted by King Carl Gustaf of Sweden and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.
It marked a special day for the two countries and honoured decades of dreaming and hard work. The team behind the bridge was rewarded with the Outstanding Structure Award in 2002.
Since being opened, the bridge has served as both a cultural icon and a key piece of infrastructure. Over 230 million people have travelled over the bridge since it was opened, with 141 million of them by car and the rest by train.
The journey over the bridge is stunning by car and impressive by rail. You get beautiful views of the water and of the amazing structure that you are travelling on.
In terms of its cultural cachet, it played a starring role in The Bridge, the hit Scandinavian crime drama which begins with a body being discovered on the Oresund bridge. It was also featured as part of Sweden’s symbol for the Eurovision song contest in 2013, which was held in Malmo.
The Oresund bridge stands for many things. It symbolises what can happen when people drive to innovate and to create something wonderful. It shows the importance of collaboration and it illustrates the power of building bridges between countries, both literally and figuratively. It is a beautiful landmark and well worth crossing, whether by train or car.