13 July 2006

Les ponts de Paris

There's a wonderful article by John Lichfield in today's Independent about the new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, and more generally about the history of bridges in Paris.

Choice extracts:

The bridge is both chaotically modern, and graceful, preserving a long tradition of epoch-defining but beautiful Parisian bridges going back for 400 years.


Paris has more river bridges than any other city.Other river-bisected cities, such as London, Rome and Budapest, have a dominant bank. The Right Bank and Left Bank of Paris, although different in character and preoccupations, are equal partners.

The President lives on the Right Bank; the Prime Minister's official residence is on the Left Bank. The principal business quarter is on the right, but the parliament and most academic institutions are on the left. Ministries and museums are scattered on both sides. Some urban historians say that the proliferation of bridges explains why Paris has developed so evenly on both sides of the river. Others suggest that the fact that both Rive Gauche and Rive Droite were equally important forced the Parisians to build a lot of bridges.


The oldest surviving Paris bridge is, theoretically, Le Pont Neuf (the new bridge), completed in 1607. Its 12 low, sweeping arches and its breadth made it one of the wonders of Europe in the 17th century.


The Simone Beauvoir bridge continues this all-purpose tradition. If you walk along the oak planks all the way from the high sides of the Parc de Bercy to the top of the steep steps in front of the library, you cover 300 metres. You can, however, divert on to the lower deck or arrive or leave by the slopes, stairs and lifts to the lower Seine quays.

The high deck gives you a splendid view of eastern Paris, with the double-deck Bercy bridge carrying both Metro trains and cars in the foreground. There are glimpses from the northern end of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. The lower deck takes you close to the water, just above the tourist launches and the barges full of coal or gravel.

Fascinating stuff...