The Hangzhou Bay Bridge
The Golden Era of Bridges

Modern bridges, such as the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, owe much to structures that preceded them. Bridge building took a great leap forward in the 19th century as engineers in Europe and the United States applied the principles of physics to erect some of the best-known bridges the world has ever seen. The Brooklyn Bridge has been a landmark of New York City since it opened in 1883. Likewise, the Tower Bridge, which began carrying traffic over the Thames River in 1894, is practically synonymous with London. Interestingly, some people didn't care for the visual aesthetic of the Tower Bridge, calling it "monstrous" and "preposterous" [source: PBS].

The Chinese are not new to bridge building. The Anlan Bridge, a suspension bridge first constructed in A.D. 300 using bamboo cables, still carries pedestrians across the 1,000-foot (305-meter) Min River [source: NOVA]. More than 1,700 years later, in the Jiangsu Province, Chinese engineers completed a project that includes a 4,888-foot (1,490-meter) suspension bridge and a 2,575-foot (758-meter) cable-stayed bridge. Known as the Runyang Bridge, it was the country's longest bridge -- for a while.

Today, the Hangzhou Bridge, which opened in May 2008 after nine years of planning and construction, holds the honor as China's longest bridge. It stretches a mind-boggling 22 miles (36 kilometers) across the Qiantang River at the Yangtze River Delta on the East China Sea. That's almost 25 times longer than the Runyang Bridge and nine times longer than Japan's pride and joy, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge! The cable-stayed bridge snakes across the open ocean, carrying six lanes of traffic in both directions. Commuters have to pay 80 yuan, or almost $12, to cross it, but the toll fee is nothing compared to the bridge's price tag of 11.8 billion yuan ($1.72 billion). If it lasts as long as expected -- 100 years -- it should have a long time to pay for itself.

Up next, we're headed west across Asia to the very eastern edge of Europe. There we'll find the Strait of Bosporus and the next amazing bridge on our list.