“Follow the river and you will find the sea.” ~ French Proverb
Paris is a river town.
Walk along the banks of the Seine. Stroll over its historic bridges. Breathe in the iconic views. No one is in a hurry to get across. The ebb and flow of human traffic reflects the flow of the Seine itself. Slow and methodical. Romantic and magical.
No wonder it is an attraction and has been for poets, artists, writers, lovers and now tourists.
Paris has 37 bridges or ponts across the Seine, many of which were built in the early 1800’s. Earlier than that, if we count the Medieval bridges that once stood. The architecture varies, some more sumptuous than others.
Two of my favorite bridges are the Pont au Double and the Pont Alexandre III, two distinctly different bridges, each with its own history and unique architecture.
Adjacent to the Notre Dame is the Pont au Double. It was completed in 1634, and was built to carry patients to the Hotel-Dieu hospital on the left bank. The bridge derives its name from the toll that was charged, a “double” denier, used to pay for the construction. The bridge collapsed in 1709, two more were built and in 1883 the Pont au Double was replaced by a one arch cast-iron bridge.
To appreciate its beauty, one needs to admire it from below. Its bronze arch is simple yet appealing and almost glistens in the afternoon sunlight.
It is on the lower bank that one can observe life on the Seine. Its barges and tour boats get a very close look at the bridge. It appears they can almost touch it.
Looking across, one can observe the people sitting on the steps watching the river traffic.
Couples have a little more privacy.
And, it’s a good vantage point to get more photos of the Notre Dame.
In complete contrast is the Pont Alexander III.
Considered to be the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris, it was named after the tzar and was to symbolize Russian-French friendship. His son, Nicholas II, laid the foundation stone in October 1896.
The Beaux-Arts style bridge connects the Champs-Elysees quarter with the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarter. It opened just in time for the Universal Exposition of 1900 together with several structures that still stand today like the Gare d’Orsay, the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais which were located on both banks of the Seine. The exposition attracted an impressive 50 million visitors.
The bridge is lavishly decorated with lampposts and sculptures of cherubs and nymphs.
On each end of the pont are two large gilt-bronze statues on 56 ft high granite pillars. Each of the ornaments on the bridge was created by a different artist and each represents a different “fame” or subject. On the right bank are the Fame of the Sciences and the Fame of the Arts. On the left bank are the Fame of Commerce and the Fame of Industry.
Visitors flock to this bridge to have their photo taken. I don’t know how many times we were asked to take someone’s photo for them and were glad to do so. Ron is obliging a young couple in this photo. Can you blame them with a view of the Eiffel behind them?
This young couple was having wedding portraits made and I couldn’t help but take one myself.
Different bridges. Different views. All part of the magic and romance of the Seine.