The Seine River slashes through Paris. There are 37 bridges — including three pedestrian bridges and a couple of Metro bridges — that take you from one bank to the other. You're probably not going to visit them all, but on a nice day, stroll along the banks of the Seine and take a look at some of the fabulous and historic bridges that cross the river
One of the famous anomalies of Paris is that the city's oldest bridge is called Pont Neuf, or New Bridge. This bridge spans the Seine from bank to bank and also crosses over the upriver tip of Île de la Cité.
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Pont Neuf was started by Henry II, in the late 16th century, to replace a series of older bridges that were too small for the then-modern traffic and which had become dilapidated.
But, it wasn't completed until the reign of Henry IV in 1607. The reason Pont Neuf is now the oldest bridge in the city is that it was the first one made of stone. The earlier wooden bridges have long since burned down or crumbled away.
Today you'll find an equestrian statue of Henry IV in the center of the bridge, reminding everyone that he was the first king of France to begin turning Paris into a modern capital.
The years 1900 was the end of a tumultuous century for Paris and for France — there was Napoleon, the last of the kings, various republics, Emperor Napoleon II and Baron Haussmann, the destruction caused by the year of The Commune. Perhaps to shake off some of these bad memories, Paris staged a massive International Exposition.
Part of the planning for the exposition was the construction of the Grand Palais and the Petite Palais, facing each other across what today is called Avenue Winston Churchill. To carry the new palais to the esplanade of Les Invalides, across the Seine, an ornate bridge was built.
Pont Alexandre III was named in honor of the tsar to celebrate the new Franco-Russian Alliance. The foundation stone was laid by his ill-fated son, Nicholas II, who would be a victim of the Russian Revolution. he bridge features columns topped by gilded statues, with other ornamentation all across the span. It fits in perfectly with the two palais on one side of the river and the glory of Les Invalides on the other.
This modern and modernistic pedestrian bridge spans the Seine between the 12th and 13th Arrondissements, connecting Parc de Bercy with the blocky & unattractively-modern Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand.
Luckily, the bridge is so intriguing and attractive that you might not even notice the bibliothèque. Steel and oak are combined to create a near-miraculous span that requires no central support. The bridge was actually built by the Eiffel factory (yes, that Eiffel) in eastern France and was transported to Paris by water.
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"What is civilisation? I do not know. I can't define it in abstract terms yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it: and I am looking at it now."
– Sir Kenneth Clark on the Pont des Arts
The city's first iron bridge was built by — who else? — Napoleon, at the very beginning of the 19th century. It connected the Louvre with the Institut de France on the Left Bank.
Although named as a national monument in the 20th century, the bridge was declared unstable (due partially to damage sustained during bombings in the two world wars) in the mid-70s and was closed to passage. That was a good move since a 60-meter span of the bridge collapsed a few years later. (Being hit by a barge didn't help much!)
The current bridge was completed in 1984 and gives a splendid view of the river, especially looking at Île de la Cité. Unfortunately, in recent years the bridge panels have been cursed by the "love locks" craze. Not only are they unsightly, but the weight of hundreds of thousands of these locks is causing damage to the bridge.
So, please, for the sake of heritage and of safety, take a selfie on the bridge instead of contributing to the damage caused by "love locks" !
Connecting the 15 and 16 Arrondissements, near the Eiffel Tower, is Pont de Bir-Hakeim, and early 20th-century bridge spanning the river Seine. It's another Belle Epoque beauty, with decorated yet functional iron columns, sculptures, and a fabulous view of the Tower.
How this central Paris bridge — with lanes for cars, bikes, pedestrians, and even the Metro — came to be named after a remote watering hole in the Libyan desert is just part of its fascinating story.
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