Sur le Pont Neuf (Alain Jacques / Louis Aragon)
Poem by Louis Aragon (Publ. 1956): "On the ’Pont Neuf’ Bridge". The Pont-Neuf is a famous bridge in Paris The Pont-Neuf (New Bridge) is in many respects the first of the modern bridges in Paris and the most famous. Its design marks the end of the Middle Ages. It linked the Louvre, the Abbaye de Saint-Germain (Saint-Germain Abbey) and the Left Bank in royal times. Although planned during the reign of Henri II, in 1556, the construction of the bridge was opposed by the Provost of the merchants and the stallholders installed on the other bridges who could see no need for this bridge.
First stone by Henri III
The first stone was laid by his son, Henri III, in 1578, in the presence of the Queen Mother, Catherine de Médicis, under the direction of Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau. Interrupted by the League troubles, work started again under Henri IV who opened it on 20 June 1603. He christened it four years later with the name it bears today.
Designed by 5 architects
It was designed by a team of five architects, and is made of two sections; one has five arches and askew piers, the other with seven arches with the same askew piers; the sections are joined by an artificial traffic divider formed by joining two small islands: the île aux Juifs (Jews Island) and the île du Patriarche or de la Gourdaine (Patriarch or Gourdaine Island).
The statue of Henri IV mounted on a horse stands on this platform, replacing - at Louis XVIII’s wish - the one broken up by the revolutionaries, which dated back to 1614. At the request of Henri IV, above the second arch was the "La Samaritaine" (Samaritan) pump which provided the Palais du Louvre (Louvre Palace), the Tuileries and the neighbourhoods with water from the Seine. On its main face there was a bas-relief in gilded bronze of the meeting of Christ and the Samaritan at Jacob’s well. The building was topped by a bell tower and an astronomical clock, which were demolished and replaced a century later.
The Pont-Neuf (New Bridge) was an instant success, not only because of its width but also because it was the first bridge with no houses, giving Parisians a view of the Seine that they had not previously had.
The masses were very enthusiastic about it, and for two centuries it was recognised as a rallying point for all the sophisticated and vulgar pleasures of the capital. A saying has it that one was sure to meet "a monk, a white horse and a street walker" here. If the number of people seeking amorous encounters was certainly large, it was matched by the number of shady characters, thieves, conmen and bandits of all kinds.
Small business flourished with second hand booksellers and other itinerant merchants. It became the centre of a permanent, milling fair. But it was also a prestigious location and public exhibitions by painters from the Académie Saint-Luc were held here on the day of the Fête-Dieu (Corpus Christi). More recently, the modern artist Christo wrapped it up for two weeks between 23 September and 6 October 1985, leaving only the roadway uncovered. The Pont-Neuf (New Bridge) was restored in the middle of the 19th century; its arches were lowered to compound curve arches in order to reduce the slope of the humpback.
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