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Arch Bridge (Rakotzbrucke or Devils Bridge) in Kromlau, Germany

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Devil’s Bridge is a term applied to dozens of ancient bridges, found primarily in Europe. Most of these bridges are stone or masonry arch bridges and represent a significant technological achievement in ancient architecture. Due to their unusual design, they were an object of fascination and stories in antiquity and medieval Europe.

Each of the Devil’s bridges typically has a corresponding Devil-related myth or folktale regarding its origin. These stories vary widely depending on the region and beliefs. Some have the Devil as the builder of the bridge, relating to the precariousness or impossibility of such a bridge to last or exist in the first place, so much so that only the Devil himself could have built it. Others have the knowledge to build such bridges given to mankind as a gift from the Devil as part of a deal, pact or bargain between the Devil and local populace, usually in exchange for their souls.

The bridges that fall into the Devil’s Bridge category are so numerous that the legends about them form a special category in the Aarne-Thompson classification system for folktales (Number 1191). Some legends have elements of related folktale categories, for example Deceiving the Devil (AT #1196), The Devil’s Contract (AT #756B), and The Master Builder legends.

One version of the tale presents the bridge builder and the Devil as adversaries. This reflects the fact that frequently, such as in the case of the Teufelsbrücke at the St Gotthard Pass, these bridges were built under such challenging conditions that successful completion of the bridge required a heroic effort on the part of the builders and the community, ensuring its legendary status.

Other versions of the legend feature an old lady or a simple herder who makes a pact with the Devil. In this version, the devil agrees to build the bridge, and in return, he will receive the first soul to cross it. After building the bridge (often overnight) the devil is outwitted by his adversary, for example by throwing bread to lure a dog over the bridge first, and is last seen descending into the water, bringing peace to the community.

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An image of the Arch Bridge (Rakotzbrucke or Devils Bridge) in Kromlau, Germany

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