Spanning the Seine and connecting the 7th and 8th arrondissements of Paris, the ornate bridge called the Pont Alexandre III is a symbol of the peaceful relationship between France and Russia.
Although it was not inaugurated until the time of the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900, the foundation stone of the bridge was laid in person by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1896, thereby symbolising Franco-Russian relations. This international accord was shaped during talks that began 1891 and led to the signing of the Franco-Russian Alliance that was concluded between the Tsar Alexander III - the father of Nicholas II - and Sadi Carnot, the President of the French Republic at the time.
The inscription reads ‘On April 14th 1900, Emile Loubet, President of the French Republic, opened the Exposition Universelle and inaugurated the Pont Alexandre III’. At 154 metres in length and 45 metres in width, this enormous bridge connects the Esplanade des Invalides to the Avenue Wilson Churchill. The latter thoroughfare leads to the Champs-Elysées, passing in front of the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais, both of which were also built for the Universal Exhibition.
The splendid decoration of the Pont Alexandre III is particularly valuable, and the bridge has been listed as an historic monument since 1975. Four masonry pylons of 17 metres in height, two upon each bank, act as counterweights for the deck arch. Atop these are gilt-bronze figures restraining Pegasus, the winged horse, each symbolic of a different cultural aspect. Nymph reliefs in hammered copper adorn the arches at the centre of the bridge. Upstream, the Nymphs of the Seine surround the arms of Paris. Downstream, the Nymphs of the Neva accompany the gilded arms of Imperial Russia. Four hammered copper sculptures representing water spirits are set on the parapet at the base of the pylons. More than a century after its inauguration, the Pont Alexandre III has remained practically unchanged in every way except for its colour. This has been restored to the pearl grey that was its original hue. The Pont Alexandre III also offers a remarkable view to those who cross it; on one side can be seen the Esplanade des Invalides, and on the other is the magnificent Petit Palais and Grand Palais.
Between April and November 1900, during the Universal Exhibition, the bridge was visited by more than 50 million people. This popularity inspired several replicas in various parts of the world, including Las Vegas. Such is its imposing and evocative appearance that it has been used as a setting or backdrop by movie directors. It has appeared in scenes in such diverse productions as Anastasia, A View To A Kill, Midnight in Paris, Jacques Besnard’s Arsène Lupin, Ronin, and Luc Besson’s romantic fantasy Angel A (2005), in which the heroine and the hero meet and later conclude their story on the iconic bridge.
The Pont Alexandre III is timeless in its opulent elegance. In the days of the Liberation of Paris in August 1944 when the Grand Palais was attacked and burned, the fighting that took place in the vicinity led to some minor damage to the bridge, mainly affecting the carved lion. In 1995, to celebrate the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone, an extensive restoration programme was undertaken.