Spanning the Seine in central Paris, the pedestrian bridge known as the Pont des Arts has an international reputation as the bridge of romance. It was the first metal bridge to be built in the city and connects the Quai de Conti at the Institut de France, with the Quai des Tuileries, where the Louvre Museum is situated.
The history of an icon
The first metal bridge in Paris was built very early in the 19th century, on the site now occupied by the modern Pont des Arts. Elegant and lightweight, this represented the cutting edge of engineering in its day, being made of cast iron. Inspired by the world’s first cast iron bridge, built across the River Severn in England, Napoleon Bonaparte asked engineers to design a bridge that would resemble a garden suspended over the Seine, adorned with flowers and furnished with benches on which pedestrians could rest.
Unfortunately, in the 20th century, the aerial bombardments of two world wars, along with the damage caused by numerous boat collisions, left the Pont des Arts in an unsafe condition. A structural analysis in 1976 discovered various deficiencies, resulting in the bridge being closed to pedestrians the following year. In 1979 a barge rammed into one of the bridge supports, resulting in a 60 metre collapse.
The bridge was dismantled. Half of it was moved to the Parisian suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne and placed in storage for a decade until it received a second lease of life by being erected over the River Marne.
A new Pont des Arts was built between 1981 and 1984, this time in steel, and designed to resemble the original, but with the number of arches reduced from nine to seven so it would align with its neighbour on the Seine, the Pont Neuf.
Paintings, drawings, photographs... and love locks
The Pont des Arts has remained a firm favourite of artists and photographers, who draw inspiration from its magnificent views along the river. It is also a popular picnic spot and, of course, a major attraction for lovers from all over the world who, in previous years, would gather in this most romantic of locations and carry out a curious but much-loved tradition; attaching love locks to the bridge.
The tradition originated in Hungary or, some say, Cologne, but wherever it came from it was taken up overwhelmingly enthusiastically on the Pont des Arts. Lovers would attach padlocks engraved with their names to the sides of the bridge before throwing the key in the river as a symbol of eternal devotion. It was a charming idea, but sadly in practice it led to the considerable accumulated weight of the locks damaging the bridge. Thus the authorities decided in 2015 to have all the love locks removed from the bridge. Nonetheless, the Pont des Arts, as well as the nearby Pont de l’Archevêché, remain iconic locations for a romantic tryst in Parpis and perfect places to enjoy a cosy picnic for two.
Having explored the river’s bridges, you will be unable to resist the allure of a cruise on the Seine.