Jerusalem's Bridge of Chords - a New Addition to City of Ancient Symbols

City inaugurates $73M bridge - held by 66 cables and 118 meters high - slated to carry new light rail.

A harp, a ship's sail, a crooked nail, or a giant headache - Jerusalemites can't agree about how best to describe the newest landmark their ancient city inaugurated Wednesday.

The $73 million bridge, designed by the Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, has suddenly become the most dominant shape on the historic city's skyline. The bridge, which curves across Jerusalem's western entrance and will eventually carry a new light rail line, is suspended from 66 white cables attached to a spire 118 meters high that towers over the surrounding rooftops and is visible from miles away.

The gala dedication ceremony itself, with fireworks, dancers and speeches, cost more than $500,000. In an example of the city's internal tensions, young female dancers were forced to wear long skirts and cover their hair after threats by ultra-Orthodox Jews to disrupt the ceremony. Jerusalem's mayor, Uri Lupolianski, is an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

Calatrava's bridge is a flamboyant departure for a city whose famous architecture was provided by people like King Herod and Suleiman the Great.

It has a hard act to follow, joining world-famous landmarks like the stones of the Western Wall, which date back two millennia, and the 1,300-year-old golden cap of the Dome of the Rock mosque.

At a news conference ahead of the opening Wednesday, Calatrava said the structure's strength came from the fact that it is 120 percent modern and yet has a dialogue with the rest of the city.

"The most important aspect of the bridge is being in Jerusalem," said Calatrava, who designed the Turning Torso building in Malmo, Sweden and is behind the planned transportation hub at Ground Zero in New York.

For his part, Calatrava said the bridge reminded him of a harp or a tent in the desert.

Some of the bridge's massive steel components were cast in Italy, shipped to Israel and then brought up to Jerusalem on flatbed trucks. Raising the central spire required the tallest crane in Israel.

Originally planned as a simpler concrete bridge costing $30 million, the bridge turned into a major project to reshape a charmless part of the city characterized by grimy apartment blocks and hotels. Possibly realizing that its surroundings might not do it justice, City Hall put out a colorful pamphlet with a computer-simulated image of the bridge in the future, nicely accented by two modern high-rises that do not yet exist.

The image also shows the new light rail, but that project is years behind schedule and will begin running only in 2010.

Besides aesthetic arguments, complaints so far have been related to the budget, which critics charged could have been better spent elsewhere, and to the traffic snarls the bridge has caused, which included a 10-hour closure of some of the city's main routes for the gala opening.

"This bridge is just one giant headache," said Ilan Cohen, 27, who was standing at a snack stand not far away.

An informal survey of residents Wednesday found them generally positive about the new addition, if unsure quite what to compare it to.

"From everywhere in the city, it looks like a giant crooked nail," cafe owner Yaron Kortik said.

Binyamin Nakonechay, an 27-year-old Orthodox Jew, said he liked the bridge but thought it was out of place.

"I don't think Jerusalem needs something like this. We have our own monuments," he said.

Ran Ya'akov, 17, a high school student, said the bridge reminded him of King David's harp. Evyatar Tzuberi, 23, thought it looked like a ship's sail. Orlie Marin, 19, compared it to a spider's web.

Alison Gustorff, 23, thought it evoked the stylistic Sydney Opera House. "The bridge doesn't suit the city," she said. "But that isn't a bad thing: Jerusalem needs change," she said.