Victoria Falls Bridge

deck arch bridge in Zambia

The Victoria Falls Bridge crosses the Zambezi River just below the Victoria Falls and is built over the Second Gorge of the falls. The river is the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The bridge has border posts on both ends, at the towns of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Livingstone, Zambia.

Victoria Falls Bridge
Coordinates17°55′42″S 25°51′26″E / 17.92833°S 25.85722°E / -17.92833; 25.85722
Carriesroad, rail, foot traffic
CrossesZambezi River
LocaleSecond Gorge of Victoria Falls, crossing the Zimbabwe-Zambia border
Maintained byNational railways of Zimbabwe and Zambia[1]
DesignParabolic arch[2]
Total length198 metres (650 ft)[1]
Height128 metres (420 ft)[3]
Longest span156.5 metres (513 ft)[3]
No. of spans1
Piers in water0
DesignerG. A. Hobson[1]
Constructed byCleveland Bridge & Engineering Company
Construction start1904[1]
Construction end1905[1]



The bridge was the idea of Cecil Rhodes. It was part of his grand plan to build a railway from Cape Town to Cairo. He never visited the falls and died before the building of the bridge began. Rhodes told the engineers to "build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls".[4] It was designed by George Anthony Hobson, of consultants Sir Douglas Fox and Partners, not as is often stated, Sir Ralph Freeman, the same engineer who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Freeman, who also worked for Sir Douglas Fox and Partners, did the calculation of stresses for the bridge.

The bridge was built in England by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company.[3] It was then shipped to the Mozambique port of Beira and transported on the newly built railway to the Victoria Falls. It took just 14 months to put together and was completed in 1905.

The bridge was officially opened by Professor George Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, and President of the British Association (now the Royal Society) on 12 September 1905.[5] The American Society of Civil Engineers lists the bridge as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.[1]

The bridge under construction in 1905.

Made from steel, the bridge is 198 metres (650 ft)[1] long, with a main arch spanning 156.50 metres (513.5 ft).[3] It is 128 metres (420 ft)[3] above the lower water level of the river in the gorge below. It carries a road, railway and footway. The bridge is the only rail link between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and one of only three road links between the two countries. The other road links are at Chirundu Bridge and Kariba Dam.

The Victoria Falls Bridge did not bring the first train or the first railway to Zambia. In order build the railway north as fast as possible, Cecil Rhodes wanted the Livingstone to Kalomo line built before the bridge was finished. A locomotive was carried in pieces across the gorge by the temporary electronic cableway used to carry the bridge materials. The cableway was called the 'Blondin' by the bridge engineers.[6] The locomotive was put back together and started work months before the bridge was complete.[7]

For more than 50 years the bridge was used by passenger trains as part of the main route between the then Northern Rhodesia, southern Africa and Europe. Freight trains carried mainly copper ore (later, copper ingots) and timber out of Zambia, and coal into the country.

The age of the bridge and maintenance problems have led to traffic restrictions at times. Trains cross at less than walking pace and trucks were limited to loads of 30 tons. Bigger trucks have to take the longer road using the Kazungula Ferry or Chirundu Bridge. The limit was raised after repairs in 2006.[8] The bridge needs to be extensively rebuilt or replaced.[9]

During the Rhodesian UDI crisis and Bush War the bridge was often closed (and regular passenger services have not been successful). In 1975, the bridge was the site of unsuccessful peace talks when the parties met in a train carriage above the gorge for nine and a half hours.[10] In 1980 freight and road services restarted and have continued without interruption except for maintenance.

Today one of the Victoria Falls Bridge's main attraction are historical guided tours about the construction of the bridge and which include a walking tour under the main deck.[11] On the Zambian side there is a small museum about the bridge which is free to enter and contains cafe selling refreshments. Also located on the bridge is the Shearwater 111 metres (364 ft) bungee jump[12] including a bungee swing and zip-line. Concerns about safety of the attraction were raised in late 2011 after the bungee's cord snapped and a young Australian woman fell 24 metres (79 ft) into the fast flowing river with many crocodiles.[13]

The bridge was originally called the Great Zambesi or Zambezi bridge, later becoming known as the Victoria Falls Bridge.

The Location of the bridge and surrounding area by Openstreetmap



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 "American Society of Civil Engineers: Victoria Falls Bridge". Archived from the original on 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  2. Bridge Design & Engineering (Bd & e): Ramboll picked for new check on Victoria Falls Bridge - Bridge Design & Engineering (Bd & e), accessdate: March 2, 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Victoria Falls Bridge at Structurae
  4. "Sun, Steel & Spray : Bridging the Zambezi". Archived from the original on 2012-04-02.
  5. To The Victoria Falls - The Victoria Falls Bridge
  6. "Sun, Steel & Spray : Focus on the Blondin". Archived from the original on 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  7. "Horizon magazine: "Zambia's Second Industry", February 1965, pp 4–11". Archived from the original on 2021-06-10. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  8. "Nomad Tours website accessed 20 February 2007". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2012-01-09.
  9. National Road Fund Agency of Zambia[permanent dead link]
  10. BBC News On This Day: 26 August,"1975: Rhodesia peace talks fail". Retrieved 31 Jan 2006. Includes video clip.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-27. Retrieved 2012-01-09.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. [1] Archived 2009-01-07 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 19 Sept 2011.
  13. Perth Now,"WA girl survives bungee cord snap". Retrieved 08 Jan 2012. Includes video clip.