ISTANBUL - Turkey on Saturday started work on building what it says will be the world’s longest suspension bridge, spanning the Dardanelles strait that divides Europe and Asia. The bridge is the latest in a succession of massively ambitious infrastructure projects championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the launch of the project comes a month ahead of a referendum on expanding his powers.

Authorities expect that work on the bridge will be completed in 2023, the year that Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the modern republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Appropriately, the span of the bridge is to be 2,023 metres (6,637 feet).

This will make it the longest suspension bridge in the world, overtaking the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan which is just under 2,000 metres long, state media said.

The ground breaking ceremony was attended by Erdogan on the Asian side and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on the European side of the site. “The bridge will be the number one in the world. It will connect Europe and Asia,” said Erdogan.  The bridge is being built by a four way consortium of Turkish firms Limak and Yapi Merkezi and Daelim and SK of South Korea.

The ceremony was attended by South Korean Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Ho-in Kang. The bridge will also be the first ever permanent structure to span the Dardanelles - known as the Hellespont in the ancient world - which occupy a near mythical place in world history. Persian king Xerxes is said by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus to have build pontoon bridges across the Hellespont to transport his troops from Asia into Thrace in a campaign of 480 BC.