Pont de Bir-Hakeim – Connecting The 15th & 16th Arrondissements

If you're looking for a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower, take Metro line 6. We know, we know — the Paris subway is subterranean. But, as line 6 travels from the Paris Catacombs toward Trocadero the tracks slowly rise above ground to cross the Seine on the upper level of a bridge, giving you one of the best views of the Tower, seen with the river at its feet.

The bridge that Line 6 crosses is called Pont de Bir-Hakeim. From the inside of the Metro car you can't tell that, below your feet, the bridge also serves motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists, each with a dedicated lane. And you likely won't know that bridge is named after a place in the Libyan desert, the site of an ancient Roman well — a place called Bir Hakeim.


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The Story of Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Pont de Bir-Hakeim, photo by DXR, Wikimedia Pont de Bir-Hakeim at night, looking towards the 16th

Like a number of decorative, monumental structures in Paris — the Grand Palais, Pont Alexandre III, even the Eiffel Tower — the story of Pont de Bir-Hakeim began during the era of the Paris Expositions Universelles. There were eight of these world expositions held between 1855 and 1937, and it was for the third Universal Exhibition of 1878 that a metal pedestrian bridge was built to span the Seine between the 15th and 16th arrondissements, resting on the tiny Île aux Cygnes — Isle of the Swans.

(The man-made Île aux Cygnes itself didn't exist until 1827, when it was created to protect another bridge just downstream, Pont de Grenelle. Today, Pont de Bir-Hakeim is found at one end of Île aux Cygnes while the other end hosts a one-quarter-scale model of the Statue of Liberty. But, let's carry on with our story…)


ALT Statue of Liberty on Île aux Cygnes


Twenty-five years after the pedestrian bridge opened it was replaced by a new bridge in 1903. No longer solely pedestrian, the pathways on the first level now shared the space with traffic lanes. The architect of the City of Paris, Jean-Camille Formigé, directed the project, along with the city engineer. Sculptures were commissioned to adorn the facade, such as La Science et Le Travail by Parisian sculptor Jules Coutan and L'Électricité et Le Commerce by Jean-Antoine Injalbert. It was an era fascinated by technology and science.

The structure was inaugurated as Pont de Passy, named for the neighborhood on the 16th Arrondissement end of the bridge, although today you can still see the name Viaduc de Passy above the arch in the center of the bridge.

The period the bridge was built, the beginning of the 20th century, was a time of rapid expansion of the Metro system. New technical advances made it possible to get the railway out of the ground to cross the Seine on the top of the bridge. Since then riders have been able to enjoy an incomparable view of the Iron Lady.


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From the Libyan Desert to Passy

View of the Eiffel Tower from the bridge pathway View of the Eiffel Tower from the bridge pathway

Pont de Passy led a quiet Parisian life until the Second World War. While there were no skirmishes on or around the bridge during the Nazi Occupation, le pont would eventually be affected by events elsewhere in the war-torn world. In June of 1942, in faraway Libya, the Free French Forces succeeded in breaking through the ranks of the Afrika Korps (led by Erwin Rommel) for France's first significant victory of that conflict. The battle was fought at a desert watering hole called Bir Hakeim, which dates back to the time of the Roman settlement.

The period after World War II was a time of commemoration in France. And so it was that, on June 18, 1949, a ceremony was held by the Paris City Council (at that time led by Pierre de Gaulle, brother of the more-famous general) to celebrate the ninth anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's 1940 radio address from London to the people of France. The general was also present when the Viaduct de Passy was renamed Pont de Bir-Hakeim, in homage to the desert victory.


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A Favorite Photo Location

Pont de Bir-Hakeim columns at night Pont de Bir-Hakeim columns at night

Because of its location and its architecture, Pont de Bir-Hakeim has become a favored spot for visitors and artists. It's been used as a movie location for films including Last Tango in Paris in 1972 and Christopher Nolan's Inception in 2010; and has appeared in music videos from artists like American Janet Jackson and Japanese Ayumi Hamasaki.

Today, there's virtually an industry around shooting couples' engagement and pre-wedding photos on the bridge, with the arches and the Eiffel Tower as supporting cast.

Pont de Bir-Hakeim Resources

Pont de Bir-Hakeim as seen from the Eiffel Tower, photo by Mark Craft Pont de Bir-Hakeim as seen from the Eiffel Tower

  • Connects the 15th 16th Arrondissements
  • Metro Line 6
  • Stations – Bir-Hakeim, Passy
  • RER C – Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel

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