ONE of France's most impressive modern architectural achievements, the Millau viaduct, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week.
Inaugurated by then French president Jacques Chirac on December 14 2004, the tallest bridge in the world carries almost five million vehicles a year over the Tarn river in Aveyron and is due to welcome its 50 millionth by next summer.
It is not just a motorway bridge for the A75 from Clermont Ferrand to Béziers, but a tourist attraction in its own right. About a million visitors stop at the service area next to the site every year to enjoy the view.
The bridge itself is closed to pedestrians (although runners were allowed across for a race back in 2007). Visitors can walk or drive under the viaduct, or take a bus or boat trip to see it from ground level, or fly over it in a helicopter.
Designed by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Lord Norman Foster, the viaduct took three years to build, involving 500 construction workers and a budget of €400 million.
The 343m central pillar is taller than the Eiffel Tower and four times the height of London’s Big Ben; it is only just lower than the Empire State Building.
A big fireworks display lit up the sky over the viaduct on Sunday night to mark the bridge's 10th anniversary.