Crossing The Seine On Foot – 6 Pedestrian Bridges Of Paris

Paris is a city born of the River Seine. The earliest settlements of the Parisii people were probably on the Île de la Cite and the city has expanded on both sides of the river during the last 2,000 years. Nearly forty bridges now help you to get from the Left Bank to the Right Bank. Nearly a third of the bridges are found at the Paris islands.

All those bridges, all those centuries, all that daily traffic, yet there are only a handful of dedicated pedestrian bridges crossing the Seine. These are the passerelles of Paris and we'd like to take you on virtual journey to each of them. Let's start at the west end of Paris, as if we were modern Viking invaders coming in from the Atlantic.

Passerelle Debilly – Quai Branly to Palais de Tokyo

Passerelle Debilly, photo by Mark Craft

This metal footbridge predates the two museums it now connects — Musée du Quai Branly (2006) in the 7th Arrondissement on the Left Bank and Palais de Tokyo (1937), home of Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Passerelle Debilly was built for the Paris Exposition of 1900 to connect the Army Exhibition building on one side of the river to the Navy Exhibition on the other.

The exposed metal framework of the bridge reflects the engineering and building materials of the era — the Eiffel Tower was built for the previous Paris exposition eleven years earlier. It's interesting that the passerelle was built at the same time as the grandly ornate Pont Alexandre III, a few bridges to the east.

Léopold Sedar Senghor – Musée d'Orsay to the Tuileries

Leopold Sedar Senghor

You may know this bridge better by its original name, Pont de Solférino. (It was renamed in 2006 in honor of poet and Senegalese president Léopold Sedar Senghor.) The present bridge is the third to span the Seine at this site. The first was built during the Haussmannian renovation of Paris in 1861. It was a cast-iron affair that the river barges seemed to love banging into. So much so that it had to be replaced a century later with a steel footbridge, one that lasted only 30 years, until the early 1990s.

The current bridge is a bit of an engineering marvel, spanning the Seine in one arch, with no piers or interim foundation. In fact, it won a prestigious French architectural award in 1999, the year it opened. The metalwork was done by engineering company Eiffel Constructions Métalliques. Yes, that Eiffel.

Pont des Arts – Institut de France to the Louvre

Pont des Arts

This is the most well-known of the passerelles, and perhaps the most popular bridge in Paris. If you've been to the Louvre then odds are you've spent some time gazing on Île de la Cite from this pedestrian-only crossing. Pont des Arts was the first metal bridge in the city and, like so many good things in Paris, started with Napoleon.

The idea was to create a bridge that looked like a garden hanging above the river. The nine arches held a wooden walkway with benches, flower beds, even trees. Although it was a loved national historic monument, the bridge deteriorated with time, partly due to damage in World War II bombings. The final blow came in 1979 when a barge rammed into the bridge, taking out a 200-foot span.

Luckily, the bridge was rebuilt to the original design (although reducing the number of arches to seven), incorporating modern engineering standards, and reopened in 1984. The biggest threat to the Pont des Arts in recent years has been from thoughtless visitors who affix "love locks" to the side grates of the bridge. Not only are these unsightly, they threaten the structural integrity of the bridge. Please don't do that.

Pont Saint-Louis – Connecting the Islands

Pont Saint-Louis

This spot didn't originally sport a passerelle, but Pont Saint-Louis is now a pedestrian-only bridge that is closed off to traffic. It's how you get from Notre Dame Cathedral (at its back side, by the garden) on to Île de la Cite to its companion island, Île Saint-Louis, where it lands right outside one of our favorite Sunday lunch spots, Brasserie Île Saint-Louis. It's also the only bridge that doesn't touch one of the banks of the Seine.

This has been a tough spot for bridges — six of them have come and gone dating back to the early 1600s, when Île Saint-Louis was created from two smaller islands. The current metal bridge dates from 1970.

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir – Mitterrand Library to Bercy

Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir

This is the newest, and most modern, pedestrian bridge in Paris. Its single-span design is both exciting and stunning. The criss-crossing curves create an eye shape and provide two levels. The banks of the Seine in the 13th Arrondissement, around the base of the National Library, have been undergoing a sort of cultural revival over the last decade and Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir may be the crowning achievement.

The passerelle creates a real, walkable connection between this Left Bank revival and the Parc de Bercy quartier on the Right Bank, which experienced its own revival about twenty years ago. The metal bridge was built in the Alsatian workshop of — you guessed it — the Eiffel company, floated to Paris by barge, and lifted into place in only two hours one morning in January 2006.

Passerelle de Mornay – Not on the Seine

Passerelle Bassin de l'Arsenal, photo by Mark Craft

Canal St Martin runs underground in the 11th Arrondissement beneath Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Just past Place de la Bastille the canal comes up into open air and into the marina called Bassin de l'Arsenal. If you ride the canal boat (which we recommend) you pass through the bassin on your way to the Seine. And, if you want to cross the bassin on foot, there's a passerelle overhead that connects Boulevard Bourdon to Boulevard de la Bastille in the 12th Arrondissement.

Passerelle de Mornay, as the bridge is called (sort of an extension of Rue Mornay in the 4th), is perhaps the most basic design on this list. But this truss bridge has stood the test of time as it is also the oldest, dating from 1825 (as far as we can tell), not long after the canal was created.

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