Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Natchez Bridge of Sighs and its magnificent view

The Mississippi River as seen from the Natchez Bluffs
I was born and reared on the side of the Mississippi River so it holds a special place in my heart. Many’s the time I spotted ships moving past higher than my head when the river rose in the spring and there was only a levee between my New Orleans home and those muddy waters. Later, I would work along the river in Baton Rouge and never fail to pause and admire the third largest river in the world.

But it was those levees that kept that river from me. When you visit towns such as Natchez, Mississippi, a city built upon a bluff, the river stretches before you like a goddess. My favorite activity when visiting Natchez is to stand beside my river and absorb that magnificent view along the Natchez Bluff.

All along the riverfront in Natchez is a walking-biking trail, one high upon the bluff, and one closest to the river’s edge. In 2015, to connect the two sections of the bluff-side Spanish Esplanade or Promenade, the city of Natchez built the “Bridge of Sighs,” a footbridge allowing pedestrian traffic over Roth’s Hill Road. The recent addition is a replica of a 19th century bridge that spanned Roth Hill Road, and that bridge got its name from an ancient one in Venice, Italy.

Walking across the Natchez Bridge of Sighs, visitors will spot numerous padlocks, some sporting initials and names, a tradition that lovers use as a public token of their affection. Placing padlocks on bridges is popular in Europe, including Italy.

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, by the way, was built to connect the city’s New Prison to the interrogation rooms within the Doge's Palace. It was the last view of Venice convicts saw before their imprisonment. There are similarly named bridges in Cambridge, England; Stockholm, Sweden; Glasgow, Scotland; at The Venetian in Las Vegas; connecting The Tombs with the Criminal Courts Building in New York City; and within the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in California. Richard Russo wrote a novel titled “Bridge of Sighs” and the bridge has been used in operas as well as the title song of Robin Trower’s album, ”Bridge of Sighs.”

And I’m not the only one who fell in love with the Natchez bluff, although I didn’t leave a padlock behind. Frederick Law Olmsted, known as founder of landscape architecture in America, said this: “But the grand feature of Natchez is the bluff, terminating in an abrupt precipice over the river, with the public garden upon it…. So, after supper, I went to the bluff again, and found it most solemnly beautiful; the young moon shining through rents in the clouds: the great gleaming crescent of water; the dim, ungapped horizon; the earth sensibly a mere swinging globe.”

Perhaps Olmsted would have left a padlock behind as well.

Cheré Coen is a food and travel writer who loves weird and unusual things, and hopes the owners of these padlocks truly find everlasting love.

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