June 17, 2012

0252 FRANCE (Île-de-France) - Pont Neuf - part of Paris, Banks of the Seine (UNESCO WHS)

At the middle of the 16th century, only two bridges crossed the Seine river in Paris, both of them in a bad state and constantly overcrowded. It was known this very well, but any of the kings of France wasn't willing to spend to build a new bridge. In 1578, Henry III found some money in his pockets and laid the first stone of a new bridge, until the end of the year being completed the foundations of four piers and one abutment. The construction continued, without much haste, until 1589, when assassination of Henry stopped it.

In the next ten years, the French Huguenots and the French Catholics were too preoccupied to butcher each other for being interested in the fate of a bridge. The Gascon gentleman who ascended the throne, another Henry, the IVth, not even was in Paris in the next 5 years, so construction was resumed only in 1599. After other 8 years, in 1607, Henry IV completed the bridge and inaugurated it, naming it Pont Neuf, name which has been preserved until today, although now it's the oldest bridge in Paris.

For its time, the 232m long and 22m wide Pont Neuf was a modern bridge, with several innovations. It consists of two different bridge spans, one on each side of the Île de la Cité, and it has a total of 12 arches, with one span of 7 arches joining the right bank and another span of 5 arches connecting Île de la Cité with the left bank. It was the first bridge in Paris without houses built on it, and also the first with pavements, so it made it an immediate hit with the Parisians who used the bridge as a meeting place.

Of course, the people who seeking there amorous encounters were accompanied by the shady characters, thieves, conmen and bandits of all kinds. Small business flourished with second hand booksellers and other itinerant merchants, it becoming the centre of a permanent fair, but also a prestigious location and public exhibitions for painters from the Académie Saint-Luc.

In nowadays, the Pont Neuf is Paris's best known bridge, and together with the Pont Alexandre III, one of its most beautiful, the central feature of the grandiose royal architecture to be found along the Seine. Pont Neuf is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Paris, Banks of the Seine, about which I wrote here.  

About the stamp, blue Marianne et l'Europe, I wrote here.

Sender: Marius Vasilescu
Sent from Paris (France), on 30.05.2012
Photo: Alain Baudry

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