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Interstate Highway System seen from above
The Interstate Highway System in the U.S.

Constructing the New Silk Road

The world’s most game-changing construction projects

Constructing the New Silk Road

The history of the world is full of remarkable construction projects. However, just some of them have been true game-changers in building and sustaining our greatest civilizations – provided advantage in warfare, boosted economies and brought wealth to people. This is a list of six bold construction projects that pushed the boundaries of their time and made significant impact on a world scale.

The river Nile seen from above

1. The irrigation systems of the Nile

The river Nile and its predictability has brought prosperity to the civilization of Egypt for 5,000 years. The complex irrigation systems have helped the Egyptians to make a better use of the water from the river, with the first evidence of water control from as early as 3,100 BC. The Egyptians took advantage of the natural cyclical flooding pattern of the Nile: because this flooding happened fairly predictably, they were able to develop their agricultural practices around it.

The irrigation systems have lasted through warfare and conquest and the agricultural foundation has remained intact throughout history – proving the ancient Egyptians right when building their system around the river’s natural pattern instead of trying to transform it. No other place on Earth has been in continuous cultivation for so long.

2. Roman roads

The Roman roads are perhaps the Roman Empire’s greatest legacy, crucial for its massive expansion and a way to keep control over the gigantic empire. The road system covered large parts of today’s Europe, Turkey and the northern parts of Africa. Construction began in 300 BC and the roads served several purposes. They facilitated fast movement of the armies and trade goods, as well as civilians. But they also served as a way to mark the borders of the Roman Empire, to claim new territories and maintain them.

The quality of the roads was unsurpassed at its time. They were durable, easy to navigate and enabled high speed of transports. The whole system comprised more than 400,000 kilometers of roads at the peak of the Roman Empire. No fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, later giving birth to the saying “All roads lead to Rome.”

The Suez Canal in Egypt

3. Suez Canal

The Suez Canal in Egypt is a waterway that connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and is one of the world’s most heavily used shipping lanes. It was constructed between 1859 and 1869 and provides the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. The 193-kilometer-long route is therefore a direct link between Eastern and Western civilizations, shortening the distance from Europe to Asia by more than 8,000 kilometers.

Apart from boosting Egypt’s economy, the canal is crucial in international trade routes – also because of its easy passage with no need of locks. In recent year, improvements have been made to expand and widen the canal for easier navigation and to allow more volume and higher frequency of the largest container ships.

Trans-Siberian Railway runs through green landscape

4. Trans-Siberian Railway

Stretching from Moscow to Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian Railway has connected the world’s largest nation for more than 100 years. Before the construction of the railway began in 1891, there was no steady connection between European Russia and the Asian areas – making the country vulnerable to threats from foreign powers. But the railway became more than just a way to strengthen Russia’s military position.

The completion of the railroad marked the turning point in the history of Siberia opening up vast areas to exploitation, settlement and industrialization. The Trans-Siberian line remains the most important transport link within Russia, as around 30% of Russian exports travel on the route.

5. Interstate Highway System

It was the American president Dwight D. Eisenhower who had the idea of constructing federally funded interstate highways, while traveling across the country by car – a trip that took over a month. He not only wanted the United States to be ready to respond to military conflict, but also to improve shipping and transportation across the entire country. Construction began in 1956 by building new roads and converting old routes into interstates. The final planned piece of the system was finished in 1992 with I-70 through Colorado.

Possibly the most valuable improvement to the country’s infrastructure and definitely one of the costliest projects in the entire world. The total length of the entire system of roadways is 77,556 kilometers – roughly enough to wrap the Earth, twice.

International Space Station seen from space with earth in the background

6. International Space Station (ISS)

Launched into orbit in 1998, the ISS is the largest human-made body in low Earth orbit. The ISS is a unique science laboratory and also serves as a home or astronauts and cosmonauts – making it possible for people to have an ongoing presence in space since the beginning of the century. The crew members conduct experiments in areas such as biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology, enhancing life on the planet and preparing for further space exploration.

But apart from the great scientific importance, the ISS is also a human achievement. As a joint project between space agencies all over the world – former rivals in the space race – the construction and developing of the ISS shows that a cooperating group of nations can accomplish one of the world’s most technically ambitious large-scale engineering project ever. Literally pushing the boundaries of the Earth.

Sources: Russia Beyond, History.com, Waterhistory.org, NASA, Wikipedia.

Constructing the New Silk Road

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