REMAINS of what was one of the biggest Roman bridges to be built in Britain have been reassembled on the banks of the River Tyne.
The 50ft long and 10ft high reconstruction is opposite Corbridge Roman site in Northumberland and near the spot where the ornate stone bridge spanned the river.
Excavations rescued stonework from the bridge which was threatened by river erosion.
The bridge carried Dere Street, the main South-North road, over the Tyne to the important Roman fort and supply base at Corbridge – and was built accordingly.
The excavations revealed that the bridge, built around 160AD, had between six and 10 arches and was probably highly decorated with columns, elaborate parapets, altars and statues of gods and the emperor and his family.
“It would have been a magnificent entry point to the Hadrian’s Wall area,” said Paul Bidwell, senior manager at Tyne and Wear Museums’ Archaeology.
“At the point of transition between the civil and military zone, the bridge, like many buildings in the military area, would have been a manifestation of the power of the emperor and would have made it obvious that this was the frontier area.
“Travellers coming up Dere Street, having passed through sparsely-populated areas, would have come down into the Tyne Valley and would have seen the military area spread out before them, and this huge bridge at Corbridge must have been an entrancing sight.”
Another stone bridge was built over the Tyne at Chesters fort at Chollerford, which Paul has excavated.
He said that no stone Roman bridges have been found in the south of England, with even the span over the Thames at London built in wood.
A ramp took the road up to the level of the Corbridge bridge, which was eight metres above the riverside.
Around the 5th Century, after the Roman occupation had ended, the ramp was undermined by river erosion and collapsed, which meant that the span went out of use.
Research also showed that the bridge was the source of the stones used in the construction of the crypt of the church built by St Wilfrid in Hexham in 674AD, which is now beneath Hexham Abbey.
It is thought that the collapse of the bridge in the Anglo-Saxon period led to the settlement shift from the Roman site at Corbridge to the site of the present village further downstream where the river could be forded.
Hundreds of tonnes of stone from the bridge remain on the river bed, but the blocks which were retrieved were rebuilt in an operation led by Tyne and Wears Museums technical manager Ken McQueen and his deputy, Fred Beavers.
The reassembled remains are on the south bank of the river, on land which is accessible at all times.
There is a large car park at the southern end of the present bridge over the Tyne at Corbridge.
A gate from the car park leads to the riverside and the new display is five minutes’ walk upstream.