Everyone knows that Leonardo was a brilliant artist and all-round polymath. We have, amongst other genius scribblings, his drawings for helicopters and parachutes - and a 280m single span bridge from 1502 which those clever people at MIT have now proved would actually have worked.
Leonardo da Vinci’s body of work has fascinated and inspired generations of thinkers across all fields. In his notebook sketches, we’ve discovered meticulous notes of anatomy, as well as drafts of inventions far ahead of his time.
Amongst these, it appears Da Vinci tasked himself with an architectural challenge to bridge the gap between two cities. In 1502, Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire - then the world's super power - began a search for a bridge design that would connect Constantinople (Istanbul) with its neighbouring city of Galata. This ambitious venture piqued da Vinci’s interest and he submitted his own bridge design in a letter to the Sultan. Although the bridge never materialized in the multifaceted inventor's own lifetime, the plans caught the intention of MIT engineers nearly 500 years later who asked themselves, “Could the design have actually worked?” The short answer: yes.
Recent MIT graduate Karly Bast (pictured above) worked with professor John Ochsendorf and undergraduate student Michelle Xie to examine the problem. Together, Bast and her co-workers poured over the available documents, contemplated the possible materials and construction methods available to the time period, and considered the geological conditions of the proposed site - a river estuary called the Golden Horn. All of their research led to a detailed scale model that tested the bridge’s stability and capacity to support weight. Unsurprisingly, da Vinci passed the test with flying colors. How cool is that?
Even earlier than Leonardo da Vinci, the Czech city of Prague built its iconic Charles Bridge in the 14th century. Watch this magical animated 3 minute video to find out how...