An engineer by trade, Carlo Allegri was something of a Renaissance Man. Arriving in Siam in 1889to work for the Grassi Brothers, a construction company based in the capital, Allegri moved quickly up the ranks, becoming the chief of the newly created Public Works Department. He held this position for nearly thirty years, before he returned to Italy for good in 1916. The fruits of his reign remain in Bangkok today. Under his supervision, the Marble Temple (Wat Benjamabophit) and Ananda Samakhom Hall were brought to life. The Italian was also behind the construction of two bridges, PhanFa Lilat Bridge and Mahadthai Uthit Bridge. In these two architectural masterpieces—often crossed by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, but not always appreciated—his poetic sensibilities endure.
The cast iron Phan Fa Lilat Bridge links Ratchadamnoen Klang and Ratchadamnoen Nok in what is Bangkok’s rough equivalent to France’s Champs Elysées. Nearby Mahadthai Uthit Bridge adds a romantic touch to one of the old town’s numerous canals on the way to the Golden Mount.
Phan Fa Lilat was completed in 1906. The elegant bridge was designed in Roman style. It is flanked by four marble pillars embellished with cast iron boats that evoke the power of the Siamese Navy as well as the various victories of King Rama V, who consolidated his regional power and prominence in Bangkok. The most amazing element is the cast iron balustrade. Adorned with intertwined sunflowers, its floral motifs embody the purest traditions of the Art Nouveau movement, which had spread throughout Europe and was soon transplanted across the globe by artists such as Allegri and his contemporaries. The bridge was renovated in the1970s, but most of its original elements were preserved and integrated into the structure.
A short walk from Phan Fa Lilat Bridge stands what is considered to be Bangkok’s most Italian bridge—Mahadthai Uthit Bridge, located between King Prajadhipok Museum and Pom Mahakan, the old white fortress. This simple, classical structure, with its European-style pillars, features unusual bas-reliefs. These are nothing like traditional Thai motifs. Indeed, they are quite the contrary.
The pillars are decorated with weeping vestal-like women accompanied by a child, and thus the moniker “the weeping bridge.” The figures represent the mourning of King Rama V, who had died four years before the construction of the bridge, which was finished in 1914.The structure was dedicated to the departed King Chulalongkorn by his son, King Rama VI.
In its construction, Allegri and sculptor Vittorio Novi obviously reproduced the style of the small bridges that had existed in ancient Roman times and returned to popularity at end of the 19th century, during the revival movement following Italian unification. Is it pure coincidence or poetic irony that the weeping bridge was designed by Allegri? His name, of course, means “cheerful” in Italian.
Phan Fa Lilat Bridge is at the start of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, over Rob Krung Canal, while Mahadthai Uthit Bridge is located along Boriphat Road.