In Fall 2017, we experienced how the River Seine is central to the enjoyment of the capital of France, Paris. In an earlier post, we interviewed the French bridge designer Marc Mimram about his design philosophy and he showed us the elegant design of the Passerelle Solférino. However no less than 37 bridges straddle the water of the Seine and provide a link between the left and right bank and the islands such as Ile de la Cité. These bridges visually show some of the history of bridge design in Western Europe.
Initially the Ile de la Cité island provided an intermediate landing between the two rivers banks and thus reduced the bridge spans needed. As a result, the Petit Pont was initially built over the smaller branch of Seine and Grand Pont over the largest one.
Both bridges were initially built in wood. Although floods and fires destroyed them, craftsmen rebuilt them again and again and even added houses, shops and even mills on top of them.
The Pont Neuf even had waterworks Pompe de la Samaritaine installed on its deck. The Pont Neuf marked the change of an era and was the first bridge built in stone and decorated.
And although stone remained one of the more noble construction materials until the French Revolution, the sophistication of Parisian bridges came to full expression in the Belle Epoque with the arrival of metal ornate bridges at the beginning of the 19th century. At that time, Paris was showing the world its prowess in technology and the arts by holding World Fairs. The most elegant bridges of that period such as the Pont Alexandre III and Pont Mirabeau are all found near the Champs de Mars, which was then the heart of the large-scale international World Fairs.
The new city rail system and Paris’ expansion demanded a whole new series of bridges which would only carry trains. However, the new construction material, reinforced concrete was deemed to be too unattractive and was rarely used for bridges crossing the Seine. One exception maybe, the Pont de la Tournelle , built in 1927, was built in reinforced concrete but then clad in stone to harmonize with the Notre Dame Cathedral.
At the end of the 20th century, the Seine riverbanks became UNESCO World Heritage. This listing led to the design and (re) construction of a number of elegant bridges such as the Passerelle des Arts, rebuilt in 1984;
the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor (ex-Solférino) which links the Tuileries to the Musée d’Orsay in 1999 designed by Marc Mimram; and, most recently, the daring Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir.
A boat tour on the river Seine really immerses you in the history of bridge design. You might want to take a virtual tour yourself here . Enjoy!