The Pont Neuf runs between the right and left banks of the Seine River in the middle of Paris, on its way touching one end of the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame stands. As you can see in the photograph it is divided into two parts, one of seven arches joining the right bank to the Île de la Cité, another of five joining the island to the left bank. The little park in the center is called Square du Vert-Galant, a park named in honor of Henry IV, who was nicknamed the “Green Gallant”. The park is a great place to relax if you are at Notre Dame or the Louvre, go up to the other end of the island if you are at Notre Dame or just down from the Louvre. The best views are from the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge just upstream, which is why I included both in the post. Get some ice creme from Berthillon (see my post) or bring a lunch.
Even though the bridge is named “Pont Neuf” (new bridge), it is the oldest bridge in Paris. It was begun in 1577 by Henry III who laid the first stone in 1578 and finished in 1607 by Heny IV who rode a white stallion over it to commemorate it’s opening. At the time of its construction only two bridges crossed the Seine river and they were in a bad state of repair and constantly overcrowded. The bridge is remarkably modern in its construction, very wide (the widest in Paris for a long time) with round bastions which give it the look of a castle. It was the first bridge to be built without houses, King Henry IV did not want to obstruct the view of the Louvre. It also was one of the first to have paved pedestrian walkways.
The Pont Neuf gargoyles are said to be humorous, grotesque figures of dentists, pickpockets and loiterers. Through the 17th and 18th century the Pont Neuf was the center of Paris, lively with both crime and commerce. Augustus Hare in his travel book “Walks in Paris” (1888) said, “So central an artery is the Pont Neuf, that it used to be a saying with the Parisian police, that if, after watching three days, they did not see a man cross the bridge, he must have left Paris.” Any popular witticism in verse was known as “un Pont-Neuf”.
The statue of Henry IV was erected in 1618 by Giambologna and finished by Pietro Tacca. It was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution, but was rebuilt in 1818 from the original cast.
The bronze plaques depict Henry IV entering Paris in 1594 on the bottom and I believe the Edict of Nantes by Henry IV in 1598 on the top. The Edict of Nantes granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic and ended the religious wars of the last half of the 16th century. Inside the statue, in 1818, François-Frédéric Lemot put four boxes, containing a history of the life of Henry IV, a 17th-century parchment certifying the original statue, a document describing how the new statue was commissioned, and a list of people who contributed to a public subscription.
Behind the statue are some very serious steps going down to the Square du Vert-Galant. The sign refers to the Bateaux Vedettes du Pont-Neuf boat tour.
Once you go down the stairs you are greeted with this cool little park. When the Pont Neuf was first built, this area didn’t exist, but over time silt accumulated to form this little secluded paradise. In addition, there was a tiny island called the Île des Juifs that was joined to the rest of the Île de la Cité when the Pont Neuf was built.
As you go farther out, you come to the tip of the Île de la Cité with the Pont des Art in the distance.
This is the view looking back toward Pont Neuf. The last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake on the Île de la Cité near the Pont Neuf, on March 18, 1314. A plaque commemorating this event is just between the two doorways at the bottom of the stairs and another in front of the rock in the picture above. He was actually killed on the Île des Juifs (Island of the Jews) but this island was joined with the Île de la Cité when Pont Neuf was built.
The Pont des Arts was originally built by Napolean I in between 1802 and 1804. The nine-arch metallic bridge for pedestrians was constructed at the location of the present day Pont des Arts, this was the first metal bridge in Paris. The engineers Louis-Alexandre de Cessart and Jacques Dillon initially conceived of a bridge which would resemble a suspended garden, with trees, banks of flowers, and benches.
The final result is somewhat less impressive but still a focus of cultural life. The bridge has sometimes served as a place for art exhibitions, and is today a studio for painters, artists and photographers who are drawn to its unique point of view. The Pont des Arts is also frequently a spot for picnics during the summer. It links the Institut de France (seen in the distance to the left) and the central square (cour carrée) of the Louvre, (which had been termed the “Palais des Arts” under Napolean). The present bridge was built between 1981 and 1984 “identically” according to the plans of Louis Arretche, who had decided to reduce the number of arches from nine to seven, allowing the look of the old bridge to be preserved while realigning the new structure with the Pont Neuf.
Recently, from about 2008, couples have been closing a lock on the fence and throwing away the key. City officials said in 2010, “the lovers’ growing trend of sticking cadenas d’amour (love padlocks) to the railings of the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine linking the Left Bank to the Louvre is defacing the monument and has to stop”. Good luck on that proclamation.
Paris is the latest in a string of tourist sites to be struck by the love lock craze, whose origins are unclear. In Pécs, southern Hungary, lovers have been clamping padlocks to a fence in a street linking the mosque in the city’s main square and its medieval cathedral since the 1980s as a sign of commitment. In Florence, Italy, love padlocks have been affixed to the railing at the centre of the Ponte Vecchio. Lock-struck sweethearts also favour Mount Huang, China, where it is customary to ‘”lock your soul” together and then throw the key over the edge of the cliff into the misty valleys below. In Russia, newlyweds have placed so many padlocks on the Luzhkov bridge in downtown Moscow that authorities have installed tree-like iron bar structures for them to hang locks on.
The trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola in Cinque Terre is called the Via Dell’Amore (“Love Walk”) and is festooned with locks as we saw 2 years ago. Well this is the tale of two bridges in Paris, a must-visit for any trip to Paris, bring a lock if you are in love.