02 January 2017

French Bridges: 10. Pont Neuf, Paris

My next few posts are going to feature some of the bridges of Paris. This isn't a particularly comprehensive survey, it's just a handful of interesting structures which fitted in with other travels.

The first bridge is also the oldest: Pont Neuf ("new bridge", in English), which was commenced in 1578 and completed in 1607.

The bridge connects the Île de la Cité to the left and right banks of the Seine, with two arms comprising five arches and seven arches. When construction commenced, it was anticipated that the bridge would support rows of buildings, as was common at the time. However, an edict by King Henri IV decided that the buildings would not be added, with the result that the bridge as completed was wide and spacious.

Nonetheless, in its early years it was over-run with temporary stalls, and became a focal point for social activity. The two articles linked below, Lost Paris and The Birth of the Pont Neuf, describe this fairly well.

The bridge has been refurbished and reconstructed on numerous occasions. The long arm, connecting to the right bank, was reportedly rebuilt from 1848 to 1855 to lower the roadway, amending semi-circular arches into a semi-elliptical shape.

Other parts were rebuilt in response to foundation failures. At the outset of construction, a "board of experts" had reviewed options for supporting the bridge piers on a simple timber grillage, or on piles, deciding to proceed with the grillage alone. A dissenting voice came from Pierre Lescot, an architect who had worked on the nearby Louvre, who recommended that testing be completed before the decision was made.

Even during the process of original construction changes had been made. For example, the arches on the left and right arms are subtly different. On the right arm, the arches run straight through, and large triangular cutwaters of the same width as the bridge piers support smaller semi-circular refuges at road level.

On the left arm, the arches have cornes-de-vaches at their edges, a slight tapering which ties directly into smaller triangular cutwaters. These are smaller than the semi-circular refuges at road level. Whitney reports that the foundations for the left arm were built first, and that Androuet du Cerceau's original design was amended to create greater width at road level without having to rebuild the foundations.

Probably the most distinctive feature of the bridge are the 381 mascarons which decorate the various elevations of the structure, immediately below stone corbels supporting the parapets and footways. Mascarons were originally used in architecture to ward off evil spirits, and subsequently only as decoration. The mascarons currently visible are not original, but were created by a variety of sculptors as part of the reconstruction works in the early 1850s. Each one is reported to be unique.

While the bridge itself has solid stone parapets, a massive abutment on the island is topped instead with metal railings. From looking at old paintings of the bridge, these are clearly not original but appear to be a long-standing presence, seen in a Pisarro painting from 1902, for example.

Today, they are home to a staggering quantity of love locks. As most readers will know, these are a controversial subject, disliked both because they mar the appearance of bridges and in some cases imposing such a weight as to cause damage to parapets. Damage is certainly visible here: the mesh has either partially collapsed or been cut away due to the sheer quantity of locks.

The No Love Locks campaign has succeeded in getting the locks removed from the nearby Pont des Arts, by replacing the previous mesh infill panels with glass. Soon, perhaps, the campaigners will succeed in their aim of banishing the love locks entirely, so for now, a visit to the Pont Neuf offers a fine opportunity to see them in all their "glory".

Further information:

1 comment:

Bill Harvey said...

The real book about Parhis bridges is Jean-Rodolphe Perronet There is an original copy for sale here https://goo.gl/uVqJch but ask in the Civil's library or seek out an edition published in the 80s by ENPC of which he was (I think) founding director. The facimile is printed on A4 rather than the original 56x42cm, though of course Perronet himself was pre metric and worked in pied and toise (feet and fathoms to older english readers!) There are progress etchings through the construction of several bridges. every year in the early stages then every 3 months. Also drawings of every piece of equipment used from pile drivers through muck carts and water pumps to the suspended and boat mounted scaffolds used for the finishing. And finally a picture of the grand decentring with tents for the king and his nobles and a great field set out (on the other side) for the plebs.