The Marco Polo Bridge or Lugou Bridge (simplified Chinese: 卢沟桥; traditional Chinese: 盧溝橋; pinyin: Lúgōu Qiáo) is a famous stone bridge located 15 km southwest of the Beijing city center in the Fengtai District. It bridges the Yongding River—a major tributary of Hai River (although, in recent years, the water of Yongding River has been diverted to different areas of Beijing so often there is no water under the bridge). Situated at the eastern end of the bridge is the Wanping Fortress, a historic 17th-century fortress, with the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression inside.
Construction of the original bridge on this site commenced in 1189, the final year of Emperor Shizong of Jin's reign and was completed under his successor in 1192. Following damage from the flooding Yongding, the bridge was reconstructed under the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1698. The Marco Polo Bridge is well-known because it was highly praised by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo during his visit to China in the 13th century (leading the bridge to become known in Europe simply as the Marco Polo Bridge), and for the 20th century Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).
Following the Communist takeover of China in 1949, the bridge was decked in asphalt and carried motor vehicular traffic. The nearby New Marco Polo Bridge (盧溝新橋 Lúgōu Xīnqiáo) was completed in 1971 and traffic was eventually moved to it and, later, the Jingshi Expressway during a 1980s restoration of the bridge.
The Marco Polo Bridge is 266.5 meters (874 ft) in length and 9.3 m (30.5 ft) in width, supported on 10 piers and 11 segmental arches.[note 1] Hundreds of artistically unique stone lions from different eras line both sides of the bridge. The most intriguing feature of these beasts is the fact that there are more lions hiding on the head, back or under the belly or on paws of each of the big lions. Investigations to determine the total number of animals have been carried out on several occasions but the results have proved inconsistent, ranging anywhere from 482 to 501.
However, record has it that there were originally a total of 627 lions. The posture of each lion varies, as do their ages. Most date from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, some are from the earlier Yuan dynasty (1271–1368); while the few lions dating from as long ago as the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) are now quite rare.