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The devastating earthquake that flattened Intramuros in 1863 damaged also the central arches of the two-centuries old Puente Grande. It was imperative to rebuild it for it was the only bridge over the River. There was also a need to find a way to maintain the traffic between banks during the time it would take to rebuild the ruined bridge. For the purpose, a temporary wooden structure was built supported by pylons sunk in the water with a central span, also wooden, supported by four barges floating in the middle of the river, hence the name given the structure: Puente de Barcas or Pontoon Bridge.

Rizal remembers with fondness this bridge, which he saw and crossed often in his childhood while studying in Manila. Describing Ibarra’s leaving Binondo on his way to San Diego says:

There no longer existed the useful and honorable Puente de Barcas, the good Filipino pontoon bridge that had done its best to be of service in spite of its natural imperfections and its rising and falling at the whim of the Pasig, which had more than once maltreated and destroyed it.

Noli me Tangere, chapter 8.

The photo at left shows the bridge with the Magallanes monument and the great mass of the Convent and Church of Santo Domingo in the background. The monument, which the United States administration moved to a place more to the right in the photo and close to the river bank, the convent and the church, all three, were pulverized by US forces’ bombs during the Battle of Manila in 1945.

Puente de Barcas is featured in several city maps of the times. In a 1876 map the bridge is drawn in precise detail with four barges supporting its floating central span.

The bridge opened to the public in 1875. It was widened in 1901, which necessitated removing of the street lamps on it. On the resulting wider bridge tracks were laid on in 1905 to accommodate the new electric ‘tranvias,’ electric street cars. But the bridge had its days counted. A surge in the river caused by a tropical storm in 1914 destroyed the central pier rendering the bridge unusable (below, left.) In a few months a steel truss span was built over the two central spans damaged (below, center) but the American administration decided to abandon the bridge and replace it with a new one in the place where Puente de Barcas once stood. In 1921 the old bridge was abandoned and the new one opened to traffic with the name Jones Bridge.
Puente Grande was rebuilt over the same foundations using some of the ruined bridge piers. But this time, instead of the original ten spans a project was designed for an eight-arch combined construction. The plan called for two central arches with wider spans, low, and  built in steel, the remaining six arches built of stone. The new bridge opened to the public in 1875 and was renamed Puente de España, the Bridge of Spain.

The metal elements of Puente de España, namely the central arches, the balustrades and the candelabra, were imported from France.

Puente de españa, its center pier destroyed by the river's surging waters after a tropical storm in 1914.
Puente de España after repairs, its center span replaced by a steel truss element.
Partial repoduction of a 1920 Manila City street map showing Puente de España soon to be abandoned and
the new Jones Bridge still under construction