Crossing Seine River, Paris Designer/Engineer Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau Completed 1606 Length 761 feet (232 meters)

Materials Masonry Type Arch

The bridge opened up panoramic views of the Seine, now a quintessential Parisian experience.

Before there was the Eiffel Tower, there was the Pont Neuf. A symbol of Paris from its inception, the Pont Neuf is the most celebrated of the city’s 37 bridges and, despite its nameliterally “New Bridge”the oldest as well. Since its completion in 1606, the bridge has been to Paris what the heart is to the human body, “the center of all movement,” as a writer put it in the 1780s. Construction of the bridge began in 1578 under Henri III (reign 1574-1589) and was completed by the enormously popular Henri IV (reign 1589-1610), who still presides over the bridge, reincarnated as a bronze equestrian statue that faces the triangular Place Dauphine, one of the city’s first royal squares.

Under Henri IV, Paris emerged from five decades of chaos and devastation to become the political and social fulcrum of Europe. The Pont Neuf was but one element of Henri IV’s passionate orchestration, but it was a critical one that spawned sweeping change. During his reign, until his assassination in 1610, he transformed a ravaged medieval Paris into a model of civic design. The Pont Neuf was never merely a bridge: it was the place where Paris first became Paris, as well as the place where the modern city’s potential first became evident.



The first bridge to cross the Seine in a single span, the Pont Neuf connects the city’s two halves with its original core, the Ile de la Cite. Supported in the middle by the tip of the island, the masonry bridge extends in five arches from the Left Bank and in seven from the Right. As designed by Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau (c. 1545-1590) with Pierre des Isles, who may have made use of an earlier design by Guillaume Marchand, the bridge is an asymmetrical composition of semicircular arches, no two alike. Its spans range from 31 to 61 feet (9 to 19 meters), varying in width and differing on the upstream and downstream sides of the same arch. Later, in the nineteenth century, its foundations were completely rebuilt, as were the arches of the long arm, which were made elliptical.

At each pier, the parapet curves out toward the water to form half-moon bays, which were filled with a dizzying array of vendors until they were banished in 1756. John Russell makes a witty inventory of them in his book Paris, describing the Pont Neuf as a place where “you could have a tooth pulled out, go through the Help Wanted,’ watch the tightrope dancers, buy a Lancret or a Fragonard, join the army, pick up the new book by Marivaux or a first edition of Manon Lescaut, arrange to go up in a balloon, watch a bullfight, take fencing lessons, and attend a surgical demonstration.” The immortal Pont Neuf remains the vital heart of Parisian life. A kiss is just a kiss, but a lock can take down a bridge. Declarations of lovein the form of metal locks etched with lovers’ names and attached to the grillwork of the romantic bridges over the Seineare no longer welcome in Paris, where the trend started and has since spread around the world. The problem wasn’t love, it was the damage caused by the weight of hundreds of thousands of locks, and just as many keys that were tossed into the Seine. After a parapet on the nearby Pont des Arts collapsed from the locks’ weight, the city began removing them.

Artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude transformed the bridge in 1985 by wrapping it completely in silky golden fabric and rope for fourteen days. The Pont Neuf Wrapped emphasized the bridge’s proportions and recalled the many extravagant changes and additions it has undergone over the years.

Ebullient yet authoritative, Henri IV endeared himself to the French peasantry with the homely promise of “a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” Determined to be the first to cross his new (albeit unfinished) bridge, he jumped from pier to pier until he had traversed its length.

The Khaju was designed as much for enjoying the river as for crossing it. An octagonal central pavilion was built for the shah so he too could enjoy the views.

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