The Bridges of Paris

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The Bridges of Paris
“Architecture and eloquence are mixed arts whose end is sometimes beauty and sometimes use.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson All of Paris’s beauty, contrasts and contradictions are strung together like pearls on a necklace by its 37 bridges, which cross its raison d’être, the Seine River. Some of these bridges merit special attention as either historically unique or architecturally beautiful. La joute de mariniers entre le pont Notre-Dame et le Pont-au-Change, by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1756. Paris began as a Celtic settlement on the largest island in the Seine River, the Île de la Cité, inhabited by the Parisii. After the Romans conquered Gaul, defeating the Parasii, they destroyed their metropolis, and built their own. As their city rapidly expanded, they built wooden bridges connecting the island to the left and right banks: the Petit Pont (small bridge) connected the island to the left bank and the Grand Pont (large bridge) connected to the right bank. Both bridges had houses and shops on them. The Petit Pont became the district of merchants and philosophers, and the Grand Pont, later renamed the Pont au Change, became the district of money-changers and goldsmiths. Both bridges were often damaged by fires, floods, and Viking raids. Pont au Change. 1577 project for the Pont Neuf as approved by Henry III. Public domain After the siege of Paris by the Vikings in 845, the burned remains of the Grand Pont were replaced by a plank bridge, the Pont de Planches-Mibray, which held firm until the floods of 1406. King Charles VI inaugurated a new and solid wooden bridge, the Pont Notre-Dame, in 1413. Beautiful houses and shops were rebuilt upon it, as well as grain mills. Ice wrecked the bridge 1499, and it was subsequently rebuilt by public subscription. The Palais de Justice, Conciergerie and Pont au Change around 1900. Postcard. Public domain The Pont Notre-Dame bridge was restored and embellished again in 1659 to celebrate the arrival of Marie-Thérèse of Austria, the Infanta of Spain and Portugal and the future Queen of France as wife of Louis XIV. At that time, the bridge supported, almost exclusively, 60 six-storey dwellings and art dealers. After the royal marriage it became one of the most fashionable places in Paris.

Lead photo credit : Pont Notre-Dame in Paris. © Sue Aran

More in architecture, Paris bridges, Pont Alexandre III, Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Pont des Arts, Pont Neuf, Pont Saint-Michel

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.


  • Pierre Rivet
    2022-04-09 06:00:10
    Pierre Rivet
    Thank you for the interesting and informative article on the Bridges of Paris. It makes me homesick for my Second City. Merci!