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Devil's Bridge is a term applied to dozens of ancient bridges, found primarily in Europe. Most of these bridges are stone or masonry arch bridges and represent a significant technological achievement. Each of the Devil's Bridges has a corresponding Devil-related myth or folktale.
Local lore often wrongly attributes these bridges to the Roman era, but in fact many of them are medieval, having been built between 1000 and 1600 AD. In medieval times some Roman roads were themselves considered beyond human capabilities and needs, and therefore had to have been built by the devil.
The bridges that fall into the Devil's Bridge category are so numerous that the legends about them form a special category in the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folktales (Number 1191).[unreliable source?] Some legends have elements of related folktale categories, for example Deceiving the Devil (AT #1196), The Devil's Contract (AT #756B), and The Master Builder legends.
One version of the tale presents the bridge builder and the Devil as adversaries. This reflects the fact that frequently, such as in the case of the Teufelsbrücke at the St Gotthard Pass, these bridges were built under such challenging conditions that successful completion of the bridge required a heroic effort on the part of the builders and the community, ensuring its legendary status.
Other versions of the legend feature an old lady or a simple herder who makes a pact with the Devil. In this version the devil agrees to build the bridge, and in return he will receive the first soul to cross it.
After building the bridge (often overnight) the devil is outwitted by his adversary, for example by throwing bread to lure a dog over the bridge first, and is last seen descending into the water, bringing peace to the community.
In the case of the Steinerne Brücke in Regensburg, the legend speaks of the devil helping in a race between the builders of the bridge and of the cathedral (in fact a significantly later construction), and a slight bump in the middle of the bridge is said to result from the devil's leaping with rage upon being tricked out of his prize.
In the legend of Teufelsbrück in Hamburg, which only leads over a small stream, the carpenter had a pact with the devil, and he promised him the first soul crossing the bridge. On the day of inauguration, while the priest and county councillor debated who should step on the bridge first, a rabbit crossed it and the disappointed devil disappeared. A statue refers to the legend there.
The legend of Ponte della Maddalena in Borgo a Mozzano, Province of Lucca, tells of a local saint, often Saint Julian, the Hospitaller, who made the pact with the devil. On the day of delivery, the saint sets fire to a dog or a pig that crosses the bridge and deceives the devil.
Most of the bridges that have received the Devil's Bridge appellation are remarkable in some regard, most often for the technological hurdles surpassed in building the bridge, but on occasion for its aesthetic grace as well, or for its economic or strategic importance to the community it serves.
There are 49 Devil's Bridges in France, including: