Parisians sure do love their bridges, and tourists love to visit them. Bridges such as the Pont des Arts are just as famous as many other attractions in Paris, but it wasn’t always the case.
There are so many things to do when you visit Paris. You can climb the mighty Eiffel Tower, marvel at masterpieces inside the Louvre, or grab a bite to eat at one of Paris’ many Michelin Star restaurants.
No visit to Paris is complete without taking a stroll along the Seine River, which houses five of the most famous bridges in France.
Here is a list of our favorite bridges in Paris and the stories behind them.
Brief History of Paris’ Bridges
Paris’ first bridge wasn’t constructed until 864 A.D. in response to Viking raiders.
Due to the numerous navigable rivers found around and near Paris, Vikings sacked and ravaged the city annually. Only leaving after their demands for treasure were met.
If you watched The History Channel’s wildly popular tv show Vikings, you might be familiar with what historians call the Siege Of Paris. The Viking attack was covered in Season 3 Episodes 8 – 10 and depicted the nearly year-long siege of the city when it was the capital of West Franks.
The Vikings first rowed up the Seine to attack Paris in 845 and then returned three times in the 860s.
In 864, the Franks passed the Edict of Pistres and mandated bridges be built across the Seine to deter raiding parties.
Two guard towers were erected to protect the bridges. The strategy was effective. Vikings, unable to pass beyond the bridges, were repelled with hot wax and pitch (resin).
From then on, Parisians built bridges fairly regularly; some private investors looking to profit from foot traffic constructed their own bridges. They would charge a toll to cross on both sides (talk about robbery).
5 Famous Bridges in Paris
While 37 bridges cross the Seine within Paris’ city limits, only five of them are pedestrian bridges.
These bridges get so much foot traffic that they’ve almost become tourist destinations all on their own.
Visiting the five bridges is a great way to interact with local Parisians and see some of the city’s most remarkable architecture.
As most of them don’t have overhead covers, you’ll want to check out the best months to visit Paris to avoid the rainy season.
Pont de Bir-Hakeim (Pont de Passy)
The Pont de Bir-Hakeim is a 777-foot-long steel arch bridge that connects the 15th and 16th arrondissements.
Formerly the Pont de Passy, the bridge was renamed Pont de Bir-Hakeim in 1948 to commemorate the World War II Battle of Bir-Hakeim.
This battle saw French forces fighting Nazis in the Libyan desert from May 27 to June 11, 1942, and was a crucial turning point in the War.
The Bir-Hakeim bridge has two levels: one for pedestrians and motor vehicles, and the other beings a railway viaduct.
It is decorated with several dedications to soldiers fallen in Belgium during the Second World War (see the bottom left corner for an example).
The bridge passes through the artificial island of Île aux Cygnes, where visitors see a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
You might recognize the Pont de Bir-Hakeim from blockbuster movies such as Inception and National Treasure: Book of Shadows. One of my favorite shows, Parks and Recreation, also featured the Bir-Hakeim (calling it “the Interstellar bridge”).
The Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir is the newest bridge on our list.
Construction for this pedestrian and cyclist bridge started in 2004 and took over two years to complete.
The Eiffel company, founded by Gustave Eiffel (the man responsible for the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty), uses a unique lens-shaped design that allows the bridge to pass over the river without ever touching it. Instead, it relies solely on support from each end of the river.
It is officially the 37th bridge on the Seine in Paris and was named for French philosopher and activist Simone de Beauvoir who significantly influenced feminism.
It is located between the Pont de Bercy and Pont de Tolbiac and leads to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the French national library.
Pont Alexandre III
My favorite bridge in Paris (I love the Beaux-Arts style), the Pont Alexandre III is named after the Tsar of the same name.
Constructed in 1900, the Pont Alexandre III is a deck arch bridge that leads pedestrians directly to the Eiffel Tower.
Looking to grab a drink while touring the city? We wrote the guide on the 15 best bars in Paris.
It is widely regarded as the city’s most ornate bridge and has been classified as a French monument historique since 1975.
The bridge boasts extravagant and iconic sculptures depicting Greek and Roman mythological nymphs at the center of the arches and fames watching over the bridge atop socle counterweights.
The bridge debuted at the Exposition Universelle in 1900, along with the Grand Palais and Petit Palais.
Due to its exuberant design, the Pont Alexandre III has been highlighted in more films and videos than any other bridge on our list, including:
- A View to Kill (James Bond)
- Midnight in Paris
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Undoubtedly, the Pont Neuf boasts the most impressive resume on our list. Despite its name (meaning “New Bridge”), it is Paris’ oldest existing bridge across the Seine River and connects the Île de la Cité.
Île de la Cité is famous for being the birthplace of Paris between 250 and 225 BC. It is the heart of the city and a tourist destination all on its own.
Henry III laid the first stone for his “new bridge” in May 1578 to help curb the Pont Notre-Dame from being overloaded.
After undergoing several changes, the bridge wouldn’t be complete until 1607 by the new King Henry IV.
Like most bridges from its time, the Pont Neuf is constructed of many short arch bridges that follow architecture mastered by the Roman Empire.
At the time, it was the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses. Henry IV made this decision on the grounds that houses would impede a clear view of the Louvre.
Planning a Visit to the Louvre?
With thousands of paintings, you can get overwhelmed quickly. Here are the 20 most famous paintings and where to find them.
In 1889, the French Ministry of Culture listed the Pont Neuf as a monument historique (a designation given to an exclusive list of national heritage sites in France).
A significant bridge restoration began in 1994 and was completed in 2007, marking its 400th anniversary.
Visitors to the Pont Neuf should note the many sculptures on the bridge’s sides.
There are 381 stone masks (mascarons), each unique in its depictions. They represent various mythological divinities as well as satyrs and sylvains.
These are just copies, though, as the Renaissance originals were moved to various places in the city, such as Musée de Cluny and Musée Carnavalet.
There’s also a large bronze equestrian statue of Henry IV on horseback at the crossing of Île de la Cité. The original was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution but was rebuilt in 1818.
Pont des Arts (Love Lock Bridge in Paris)
At this point, you’ve likely expected what would be at the bottom of this list. The Love Lock Bridge, or the Pont des Arts as it’s named, connects the Institut de France with The Louvre.
Long before love locks were added to the bridge, Napoleon Bonaparte constructed the original Pont des Arts.
Constructed between 1802 and 1804, the Pont des Arts was the first metal bridge in Paris and consisted of nine-arches.
This original version of the Pont des Arts suffered two aerial bombardments during World War I and II and sustained harm from passing boats crashing into it. The bridge would ultimately collapse in 1979 after a passing barge rammed into it.
The present-day Pont des Arts was built between 1981 and 1984 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national historic monument.
Even before becoming the Love Lock Bridge, the Pont des Arts was a popular spot for picnics and open-air art studios. Its position along the Seine River and proximity to the Louvre made it a popular spot for amateur and professional photographers.
Now though, the Pont des Arts is most famous for being the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. Prior to 2015, when Paris started to remove the locks, millions of visitors flocked to the bridge to attach personalized padlocks to its railing as a symbol of love.
Why Did People Put Locks on the Pont des Arts?
In 2006, an Italian film titled Ho Voglio di Te (I Want You) was released to a modest audience. However, one scene, in particular, caught on:
In the scene above, two lovers write their name on a lock and attach it to the Ponte Milvo, a bridge in Rome, before throwing the key in the river.
It turns out that, while the Pont des Arts is the most famous Love Lock Bridge, it’s far from the original. So why did the Pont des Arts become known as the Love Lock Bridge?
The Ponte Milvo, while pretty in its own right, isn’t exactly in an area of the city where tourists frequently visit. The lack of convenience to visitors ultimately led to the love locks not catching on.
The Pont des Arts is one of just five pedestrian bridges that cross the Seine River, so it naturally attracts a lot of foot traffic. It’s also strategically located right near the Louvre, which makes it a convenient destination for lovers on vacation to the “City of Love.”
While the Pont des Arts is famed for its locks, it is illegal to do so and the city began taking precautions in 2015 to ensure no locks were added again.
Paris Removes Love Locks
What started out as a symbol of love, turned into destruction and pollution. Mirroring what was shown in the movie, millions of visitors added their locks to the Pont des Arts and threw their keys deep into the Seine.
In 2015, Parisians noticed that the bridge was struggling under the weight of the locks attached to the structure and asked for the government to intervene.
At first, the French government removed 45 tons of padlocks from the bridge and asked visitors to show their love in other ways, such as with a selfie.
Officials declared that “the romantic gestures cause long-term heritage degradation and danger to visitors.” Soon after, they made it illegal to place new love locks on the bridge.
Tourists ignored the law and continued to place upwards of one million new love locks back on the bridge, causing to the partial collapse of the parapets.
Glass Panels Installed
As part of the clean-up efforts and to deter vandals even further, glass panels were installed to replace the traditional railings and wire fencing.
Not only do the panels protect the bridge from further decay, it also cracks down on pollution found in the Seine.
While the love locks were a cool concept, I’m happy to see them removed. The Pont des Arts is historically and architecturally significant on its own without people lining up to profess their love via cheap locks.
Have you been to the Love Lock Bridge in Paris? If so, let us know what you think of it in the comments below.
Leave a Reply