Ancient Rope Bridges


By CREDIT:Photo courtesy of Rutahsa Adventures www.rutahsa.com - uploaded with permission by User:Leonard G. at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Inca people of Peru continue an ancient tradition. Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma tell about the way their community comes together to achieve a common goal.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

In the Andes Mountains of Peru a group of people walk through the forest. They carry long, thick ropes made from grass. Their trip is difficult. The path is full of rough rocks. The mountain paths are narrow and go up very high. But the people keep travelling. They finally arrive at a large deep canyon. It is a large open space between the mountains. Down below, a large river flows through the bottom of the canyon. A bridge stretches across this canyon. But this bridge is not made of metal, wood, or stone. It is a rope bridge. The people in this area have been making rope bridges like this for hundreds of years. Today’s Spotlight is on the Inca suspension bridges of Peru.

Voice 2

More than 500 years ago, Spanish explorers came to South America. They travelled through many areas, including the Andes Mountains. They were very surprised by these rope bridges. They had never seen bridges like these before. Bridges in Europe did not stretch across such large spaces. The Spanish soldiers were afraid to walk across the bridges. To the Spanish, these bridges looked weak.

Voice 1

But the Peruvian Inca people knew their bridges were safe. 500 years ago, the Inca Empire was the greatest nation in the Americas. The Empire stretched far along the Andes Mountains. But this culture did not use common ancient technology. The Incas did not use wheels. They did not have a written form of mathematics. But the Inca people were skilled engineers. They built many amazing buildings. They were very skilled stone workers. Their stone work continues to surprise engineers even today!

Voice 2

The Inca’s engineering skills also helped them to build road systems. These roads covered the whole Inca Empire. The trails and roads went through the mountains. Fast runners carried messages through the empire using these roads. Animals also carried heavy loads along the roads.

Voice 1

But rivers caused a problem for road builders. The rivers cut deep valleys and canyons between the mountains. They were very difficult to cross. And people could not complete a trip if they could not cross the rivers. So, the Inca engineers invented something amazing to solve this problem: rope suspension bridges. Experts say that in the 16th century, there were at least 200 rope bridges in the Inca Empire.

Voice 2

John Ochsendorf is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT. MIT is one of the best technology schools in the world. Doctor Ochsendorf studies ancient building and engineering. He says that when the Spanish came to South America, they also tried to build bridges. But they tried to build the kind of bridges they used in Europe. These bridges were made of stone. And these bridges always fell down and broke.

Voice 1

The Inca people were very skilled with stone. They knew that stone would not work for bridges like this. The river canyons were too large. So the Incan engineers used another resource they understood. They used grass, cloth fibers, and animal hair. Their rope bridges stretched more than 50 metres across large canyons. This was farther than any European stone bridge of that time. And no European bridges stretched across such deep canyons. The Inca rope bridges were some of the most amazing bridges of the time. Some of the ropes of these bridges were as thick as a man’s body.

Voice 2

People in Peru still make these rope bridges today. Once a year, hundreds of people gather at the Apurimac River near the village of Huinchiri. They come here to help rebuild the rope bridge crossing the river. People must rebuild the bridges when the ropes become too old or damaged. But it is a quick process. Villagers say they can build these bridges in only three days.

Voice 1

In 1997 the television program Nova recorded this process. The villagers all came to help build the new bridge. Clotilde Vilcas was one of the first people to arrive in the morning. She brought a rope made of grass. The rope was 45 metres long. Soon, other people also arrived. They also carried long ropes made of grass and animal hair. Before the villagers could build the bridge, they needed about 6,500 metres of rope.

Voice 2

By the afternoon, almost 500 people had arrived to help build the new bridge. They turned and twisted their ropes together to form larger ropes. They continued to do this many more times to form the final ropes. Each large rope is made from 24 small ropes. In the end, the people create three large ropes. And each one weighs about 90 kilograms.

Voice 1

Phillipe Petit is a French tightrope walker. He is very skilled at walking on ropes in very high places. Because of this, he knows a lot about rope! He was in Peru to watch how the people create this bridge. He talked to Nova about the rope they made.

Voice 3

“It is beautiful because each family did one little piece. Each community brought their own rope. Those small ropes are like your little finger. But they are combined into a bigger one. Then they are made into an even bigger one and now those three big ones. It is really a communion, a coming together.”

Voice 2

The next morning, the people were ready to stretch the ropes across the river. A man started by throwing a small rope across the river. Then the other men used this small rope to pull the larger ropes across. Large stones stand on each side of the canyon. The people tied the ropes to these stones. Then they worked all day to make the bridge stronger. They pulled on the ropes until they were very tight. This made the bridge move less in the wind. The largest ropes formed the floor of the bridge. Two other ropes were higher. People can hold these ropes as they walk across.

Voice 1

Then, the men completed the final step. They tied small ropes between the floor and the other ropes. The small ropes kept the large ropes connected and also made the bridge safer. These ropes prevented people from falling down into the river. The bridge was now ready for another year of traffic. Animals and people could cross the bridge safely.

Voice 2

The community of people worked together to make this bridge. The bridge is made from many small ropes, but together those ropes are very strong. The bridge is like the village community. The community is stronger when its members work together.

Voice 1

The writer of today’s programme was Joshua Leo. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at http://www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called "Ancient Rope Bridges".

Voice 2

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Comments


humble71's avatar
humble71
said on December 15, 2011

It’s so interestig to know how the Incas built theis kind of rope bridge, long and safe ones. They weren’t engineers but they made strong and safety bridges.And it’s admirable that indigenous people continue bulding them with the help of all the village. And it is the first time that I know that a bridge is better built with ropes .. Incredible…  Continue doing nice programs .

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Rain Bows
said on February 05, 2013

Very interested,

I’m glad to hear from this ancient story and I see it so nice to know that when we work together we can build great things!

Thanks spotlight.

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Rain Bows
said on February 05, 2013

Very interesting*

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on February 05, 2013

Good Program
Thanks Spotlight