7+ Marvelous Facts about the Millau Viaduct

Do you want some delicious facts about the Millau Viaduct? Then prepare to have your appetite sated.
Christopher McFadden
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The Millau Viaduct is the world's tallest bridge and one of the world's greatest engineering and architectural marvels. Here we explore, briefly, the viaduct's history and take a look at some of her vital stats.


Why was the Millau Viaduct bridge built?

The Millau Viaduct is one of the world's tallest bridges, standing at an impressive 343 meters. That's about 19 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower (from the tower's tip at 324 meters).

It is world-renowned for its wonderful design which was once considered impossible to achieve when its construction was announced.

For this reason, amongst others, the viaduct is considered one of the world's greatest achievements in engineering. But why was it built?

Like many viaducts, in fact, any civil engineering project, around the world, the main reason was to solve a problem. A plan to build a bridge to span the Tarn Valley was first discussed as early as 1987.

Before this point in time, eager holidaymakers from Paris to Spain had to descend into the valley to get there. This plagued the infrastructure of the valley, namely the Route Nationale N9 that passes near the town of Millau.

It often caused heavy congestion and much disruption for locals. Something needed to be done and so an announcement was made in 1991 to build the viaduct to relieve pressure on local roads.

To this end, British Architect Norman Foster and French Structural Engineer Michel Virlogeux were commissioned to make it happen. Virlogeux just so happened to be a bridge specialist who, up to this point, had designed no less than 100 bridges.

These included the Pont de Normandie in northern France.

Foster, on the other hand, a prolific British architect, was considered one of the most accomplished architects of his generation.  In 1999 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

The combination of a visionary architect and a highly accomplished structural engineer was considered the perfect mix to achieve the ambitious project.

The viaduct's actual construction was entrusted to the construction company Eiffage

Why is the Millau Viaduct famous?

As we have already alluded to, the viaduct's main claim to fame is its impressive height. It stands at 343 meters and is most famous for being the tallest bridge in the world. 

This makes her head and shoulders above her closest competition, the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge in Istanbul Turkey (322 meters) and the Russky Bridge in Russia (321 meters).

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She is a cable-stayed, concrete and steel construction viaduct motorway bridge that spans the Tarn gorge valley near the town of Millau in Southern France. The viaduct forms part of the A75 to A71 autoroute between Paris, Beziers, and Montpellier in France.

She cost somewhere in the order of 310 million Euros to build and officially opened for business in 2004. The viaduct is widely considered a great technical and architectural feat and has won various awards since its inauguration.

millau viaduct facts
Source: Mike Locke/Flickr

These include, but are not limited to, the 2006 Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering.

"For the best photo opportunities, arrive at the bridge shortly after sunrise in the Autumn, when the bridge frequently floats above the overnight mists that have formed in the valley below.

Information on the Millau bridge, including audio-visual displays, can also be had in the tourist information section of the "Aire de l'Aveyron" service area, some 40 kilometers north of the viaduct, at Séverac le Château.

Those interested in bridges, and heading for the Millau Viaduct south down the A75 motorway from Clermont Ferrand, will want to stop off on the way to view another magnificent viaduct, Gustave Eiffel's Viaduc de Garabit. This great 19th-century viaduct is best seen from the motorway rest area, the Aire de Service Viaduc Garabit Eiffel, where there is a small interpretive center." - About France.  

How old is the Millau Viaduct?

The Millau Viaduct was first conceived in the late 1990s and construction began in 2001. Her construction took three years to complete and she was inaugurated in December of 2004. 

At the time of writing, this makes the viaduct 15 years old since completion. Today the viaduct is a fond favorite of architectural fans the world over. 

While the motorway is free to use, there is a toll charge to cross the viaduct. Toll booths are located a couple of kilometers north of the viaduct. 

7 takeaway facts about the Millau Viaduct

Here are 7 interesting takeaway facts about the Millau Viaduct. 

1. The viaduct was built to combat congestion on local roads around Millau during the summer holidays. Before her construction traffic needed to descend into the valley to traverse the area.

2. After a consultation period involving bids from various architectural and engineering consortiums, Norman Foster and Michel Virlogeux through their Sogelerg, Europe Etudes Gecti, and Serf, and the architects Foster + Partners consortium bid was deemed the best. 

3. Construction began in 2001 and took three years to complete. She was inaugurated in December of 2004. At the peak of construction, 600 master craftsman were enlisted to make the viaduct a reality. 

4. The viaduct is still the world's official tallest bridge in the world and stands at 343 meters. She spans the valley for 2,460 meters. She is also considered one of the world's modern architectural and engineering marvels. 

5. The viaduct cost over 300 million Euros to build. The bridge's construction was financed by the construction company, Eiffage, in return for being granted the right to charge tolls for the next 75 years. However, should the toll costs rise too much, the French government reserved the right to assume control from 2044. 

6. The viaduct consumed 127,000 cubic meters of concrete, 19,000 tonnes of steel for reinforcing the concrete and a further 5,000 tonnes of pre-stressed steel for the cables and shrouds. Her builders have claimed that the bridge should last for at least 120 years. 

7. The viaduct has seven concrete piers supporting her superstructure of 16 steel roadway sections. The viaduct has six carriageways with hard shoulders all held in place with 154 steel cable stays. 

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