Ozimek – iron suspension chain bridge on the Mała Panew river, Ozimek
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Ozimek – iron suspension chain bridge on the Mała Panew river

Ozimek

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The suspended bridge in Ozimek is the oldest surviving suspension bridge with a chain structure suspended on openwork iron pylons. It was made in years 1825-1827 at the “Malapane” iron mill in Ozimek; a pioneering achievement, it was one of the first bridges in the world to use this technique, bearing testimony to the history of industrial culture and technological thought of the early 19th century. The outstanding value of this architectural monument stems from its historical significance and technical features. The bridge in Ozimek is also known to have formed a model which many similar structures all around the world would later emulate. Commissioned in 1827, the bridge survived in an unchanged form, performing the function of a road bridge right until the 1970s, when it was converted into a pedestrian bridge. There are only a few similar bridges which still exist today, mostly in the United Kingdom, although none of them is in fact identical in terms of the technical solutions applied. A distinctive, unique feature of the load-bearing structure of the bridge in Ozimek are its monumental, cast iron pylons positioned on both sides of the river which support the suspended chains. Each pylon takes the form of a truncated, slender pyramid made out of four openwork panels joined together using screws. Solutions of this kind were in fact quite rare at the time, with designs incorporating chains suspended from stone pylons being much more common. The bridge remains an illustration of a significant stage in the development of bridge design and engineering.

History

The iron suspension chain bridge in Ozimek was first commissioned on September 12, 1827 and incorporated many innovative technical solutions; the bridge, built in a small metallurgical settlement in the historic area of Upper Silesia, was one of the first structures of its kind anywhere in the world.

The “Malapane” royal iron mill by the Mała Panew river in Ozimek was founded in years 1753/1754, at a time when the Prussian king Frederick II waged a war against Austria in order to maintain control of the Silesian region (1740-1763). The iron mill itself was designed as a military manufacturing plant; it was only towards the end of the 18th century that the manufacture of industrial and agricultural machinery has begun. The royal iron mill in the small town of Ozimek later grew to become one of the leading iron and steel mills in all of Europe; the production of steel began in 1786, while in 1789 the facility began using coke for the purposes of ore smelting. In 1791, the facility began the manufacture of the components for steam engines, followed by complete machinery - an important step, since until that time machinery of this type had only been manufactured in England, where it had been originally invented. In the late 18th and early 19th century, bridges became the main product offered by the “Malapane” steel mill in Ozimek. The very first structure of this type, modelled on the English “Iron Bridge”, was made of cast iron parts manufactured in years 1794-1796; it was commissioned for the Łażany manor near Wrocław in order to facilitate the crossing of the Strzegomka river. Following this initial success, in years 1798-1804 the factory manufactured a number of similar arch bridges for Wrocław, Potsdam, Berlin and Petersburg, among others. In the early 1820s, a machinery workshop was organised at the iron and steel mill, providing professional training to the sons of the factory’s employees under the supervision of Carl Schottelius, the royal master mechanic. It was this young team of engineers who designed the new bridge on the Mała Panew river, positioned on the road owned by count Renard and leading from Opole to Dobrodzień through the Steel Mill. Many surviving documents suggest that the design of the bridge and the execution thereof may be attributed to Carl Schottelius himself. The author of the very concept for the bridge’s structure, however, remains unknown; it is believed that its designer might have used the ideas of K. F. Schinkel, J. G. Gärtner or J. Baildon as a starting point. Regardless of their source, however, the structural solutions applied - which are believed to be the work of Schottelius himself - were truly innovative in their time. The construction of the bridge began in 1825 and required 14 190 kilogrammes of forged iron parts as well as 57 805 kilogrammes of cast iron components. The total carrying capacity was estimated at 3 tonnes. The engineering ingenuity of the designers, however, would soon be put to the test by the forces of nature. On March 17, 1830, a flood caused major damage to the structure, scouring one of its abutments, although the bridge was later quickly stabilised using large boulders. The bridge structure received further reinforcements in 1854, with the wooden deck supports being replaced by transverse steel beams. This allowed the bridge to survive both a number of floods and the march of the French forces. In 1889, chain anchor points and their foundations were successfully replaced.

The iron suspension chain bridge on the Mała Panew river remained the only bridge in Ozimek right until 1938. It was damaged by a Soviet tank on January 22, 1945. Despite subsequent repairs, the bridge was excluded from road traffic and served only as a pedestrian bridge, with its transport significance being reduced to local traffic only. In the early 1970s, the bridge became the property of the “Małapanew” iron and steel mill. In 2008, its ownership was transferred to the Ozimek Commune, which has begun efforts aimed at ensuring the preservation of the historical monument.

Description

The bridge is located in the south-western part of town, near the entrance to the “Małapanew” steel mill. Located on the south-western/north-eastern axis, the bridge forms the final part of the industrial area and provides a view corridor towards the local church. The bridge was designed on a rectangular plan, with two axes of symmetry, its longitudinal axis positioned at an 80º angle towards the river. The load-bearing structure of the bridge takes the form of a suspended iron construction which supports a light road deck. The dominant feature of the bridge are the two pairs of pylons on both sides of the river, connected by a single span suspended on parabolic chains. The cables which flank the access paths leading to both sides of the bridge take the form of stays arranged in straight lines and disappearing into anchors submerged in the ground, which means that visually the bridge consists of three distinct sections - the middle section with the deck and the two outer sections. The total length of the bridge, including the underground chain anchors, is 77 metres.

In terms of architecture, the design of the structure is reminiscent of forms typical of Historicism and Eclecticism. It also shows clear English influences, with an emphasis on the Gothic Revival style.

Commissioned in 1827, the bridge survived in an unchanged form, performing the function of a road bridge right until the 1970s, when it was converted into a pedestrian bridge.

compiled by National Heritage Board of Poland, 2017r.

General information

  • Type: technical monument
  • Chronology: 1825 - 1827
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Ozimek
  • Location: Voivodeship opolskie, district opolski, commune Ozimek - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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