Bridges Of Paris
( Originally Published 1921 )
If the bridges on either side of the Cité and the one which connects that island with the Ile St Louis are counted, there are thirty-three bridges within the city limits of Paris. Their first building would make a connected story of Paris if they were taken chronologically. The Petit Pont and that one called the Grand Pont, until it was renamed Pont-au-Change, come into Roman history; their foundations were solid.
In the 12th century Louis the Fat established the gold-smiths and money-changers upon the Grand Pont, in their own houses. It may have been to guard them until such time as he should need their financial help. But that bridge went down ten times in the 13th century, houses, money-lenders, and all. In 1304 they were allowed to move, but many of them stayed on, and the history of Paris, as told in certain archives, gives the account of the fire on the night of October 21st, 1621, when the servant of Monsieur Goslard let her lighted candle fall into some shavings.
Within three hours, the bridge and its one hundred and forty perfectly good houses were consumed. The gable of the Clock Tower on the Left Bank, together with a smaller foot-bridge and other houses, were also burned. The bell in that tower had called all the able-bodied men of Paris to the aid of the fire-fighters. And they, together with the bridge-dwellers, pulled and hauled all that they could to shore and stored the most valuable objects in the nearest church, St Germain-l'Auxerrois.
Two days later a law was passed by the City Fathers that all the lean-tos and shacks which might endanger, another time, the Châtelet on the one bank and the Palace on the other, must be torn down.
For a year divers were kept at work trying to salvage what was at the bottom of the river. All that they brought up was taken to the Hôtel Commun, as they called the City Hall, to be inventoried and await their claimants. Money was appropriated from the town funds for the sup-port of the fire victims, who were allowed to live in the Hôpital St Louis.
The bridge was not rebuilt until 1639. And the one you see, still called "Exchange Bridge," was last rebuilt in 1859. It was then that they discovered the foundations of the Roman bridge. The "N" stands for Napoleon III who rebuilt it.
There is not a bridge, old or new, about which a volume could not be written. The Pont Notre-Dame, as I have said, was the first part of Paris to have its houses numbered (1436) ; it was built in 1412. At times its houses went up in flames, too, and it lived an adventurous life over a river given to floods.
The Petit Pont was built in 1185 by Philip Augustus; and the last time it was rebuilt was in 1853; while the Pont Neuf is the oldest Paris bridge in its present form, having been finished in 1603. It crosses the Seine at its widest point within city limits : eight hundred and sixty-three feet. It was close by on the quay that the first book-stalls were started, some of them even on the bridge itself.
Pont Royal, with its five stone arches and its sturdy strength, was built by Louis XIV and is the quaintest of all. And one of the most used.
The Pont du Carrousel is threatened. Yet it is still strong and full of interest as the first cast-iron bridge in Paris, a daring exploit of engineering in 1835. For five years the builder, Polonceau, watched it to see if it were going to stand the strain. When he was quite reassured he wrote a book for other bridge builders, giving his solutions of the problems involved; that book is interesting reading even for the layman.
The Concorde bridge is one hundred and five feet wide (the sidewalks twenty-one feet, and the roadway sixty-three feet). The work of rebuilding that recently cost over twelve million francs, the expense being shared by the city, the Department of the Seine, and the State. It leads directly to the Chamber of Deputies, from the Place de la Concorde; it holds a strategic position. Perhaps it is be-cause the stones in its parapets are those which were taken from the Bastille by the people of Paris that it continues to play its rôle in civil disturbances, as on Feb. 6, 1934. Yet it was not built until 1790. Its builder was Perronet, who has his statue in Neuilly, where he built an even handsomer bridge over the Seine.
The names of the bridges bristle with associations: the Pont de l'Alma was built to honor the victory in the Crimean war. The Pont Alexandre III had its first stone laid by the Czar of all the Russias in 1896. The Pont d'Iéna cost two million, six hundred thousand pre-war francs and commemorates a victory of Napoleon in 1806; it was being enlarged when the last war broke, just as the Pont des Invalides was being rebuilt before the war of 1870. And the Concorde has just been rebuilt how long before the next war?
The Pont de Grenelle was built in 1825, and for forty-seven years tolls were taken on it to pay for it. The Pont de Mirabeau honors a man too often disregarded; Mira-beau, one of the great statesmen of the world. The City limits are marked by two viaducts, the Pont National and the Pont d'Auteuil. The Pont de Passy, another viaduct, carries the Métro over the river. And these are not all.