Pont Neuf in Paris
The Pont Neuf (, New Bridge) is, despite its name, the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris, France. Its name, which was given to distinguish it from older bridges that were lined on both sides with houses, has remained.
Standing by the western point of the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the river that was the heart of medieval Paris, it connects the Rive Gauche of Paris with the Rive Droite.
The bridge is composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité, another of seven joining the island to the right bank. Old engraved maps of Paris show how, when the bridge was built, it just grazed the downstream tip of the Île de la Cité; since then, the natural sandbar building of a mid-river island, aided by stone-faced embankments called quais, has extended the island. Today the tip of the island is the location of the Square du Vert-Galant, a park named in honour of Henry IV, nicknamed the "Green Gallant".
As early as 1550, Henry II was asked to build a bridge here because the existing Pont Notre-Dame was overloaded, but the expense was too much at the time. it was for a long time the widest bridge in Paris. The bridge has undergone much repair and renovation work, including rebuilding of seven spans in the long arm and lowering of the roadway by changing the arches from an almost semi-circular to elliptical form (1848–1855), lowering of sidewalks and faces of the piers, spandrels, cornices and replacing crumbled corbels as closely to the originals as possible.<ref name="whitney" /> In 1885, one of the piers of the short arm was undermined, removing the two adjacent arches, requiring them to be rebuilt and all the foundations strengthened.<ref name="whitney" />
A major restoration of the Pont Neuf was begun in 1994 and was completed in 2007, the year of its 400th anniversary.
The equestrian statue of Henry IV
At the point where the bridge crosses the Île de la Cité, there stands a bronze equestrian statue of King Henry IV of France, originally commissioned from Giambologna under the orders of Marie de Médicis, Henri’s widow and Regent of France, in 1614. After his death, Giambologna's assistant Pietro Tacca completed the statue, which was erected on its pedestal by Pietro Francavilla, in 1618. It was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution, but was rebuilt in 1818, following the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy. Bronze for the new statue was obtained with the bronze from a statue of Louis Charles Antoine Desaix and cast from a mold made using a surviving cast of the original. Inside the statue, the new sculptor François-Frédéric Lemot put four boxes, containing a history of the life of Henry IV, a 17th-century parchment certifying the original statue, a document describing how the new statue was commissioned, and a list of people who contributed to a public subscription.
Resting place of Jacques de Molay
The last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake on the Île de la Cité near the Pont Neuf, on 18 March 1314. The execution was ordered by Philippe le Bel (Philip the Fair) after Jacques retracted all of his previous confessions, which outraged Philip.
Between 1712 and 1719, a large pump house was built on the bridge (replacing an earlier one) and decorated with an image of the Samaritan woman at the well. As a result, the structure (which included a carillon) was named La Samaritaine. Years after it was torn down (in 1813), Ernest Cognacq, a 19th century merchant, set up a stand on the site and gradually grew his business to what became, in 1869, the (recently closed) department store La Samaritaine.
The Pont Neuf as the center of Paris
All through the 18th century, the Pont Neuf was the center of Paris, lively with both crime and commerce:
Czar Peter the Great, who came to study French civilization under the regency of the Duke d'Orleans, declared that he had found nothing more curious in Paris than the pont Neuf; and, sixty years later, the philosopher Franklin wrote to his friends in America that he had not understood the Parisian character except in crossing the pont Neuf.
In 1862, Édouard Fournier traced its history in his lively two-volume Histoire du Pont-Neuf. He describes how, even before it was completed (in 1607), gangs hid out in and around it and robbed and murdered people. It remained a dangerous place even as it became busier. For a long time, the bridge even had its own gallows.
This did not prevent people from congregating there, drawn by various stands and street performers (acrobats, fire-eaters, musicians, etc.) Charlatans and quacks of various sorts were also common, as well as the hustlers (shell-game hucksters, etc.) and pickpockets often found in crowds – not to mention a lively trade in prostitution. Among the many businesses which, however unofficially, set up there were several famous tooth pullers.
In 1701, Cotolendi quoted a letter supposedly written by a Sicilian tourist:
One finds on the Pont-Neuf an infinity of people who give tickets, some put fallen teeth back in, and others make crystal eyes; there are those who cure incurable illnesses; those who claim to have discovered the virtues of some powdered stones to white and to beautify the face. This one claims he makes old men young; there are those who remove wrinkles from the forehead and the eyes, who make wooden legs to repair the violence of bombs; finally everybody is so applied to work, so strongly and continually, that the devil can tempt no one but on Holidays and Sundays.
With its numerous sellers of pamphlets and satirical performers, it was also a center for social commentary:
In the 16th cent, the Pont-Neuf was the scene of the recitals of Tabarin, a famous satirist of the day, and it was long afterwards the favourite rendezvous of news-vendors, jugglers, showmen, loungers, and thieves. Any popular witticism in verse was long known as un Pont-Neuf.
In the seventeenth century, that bridge of memories, the old Pont Neuf of Paris, was the rendezvous of quacksalvers and mountebanks. Booths for the sale of various articles lined the sides of the bridge. People flocked there to see the sights, to laugh, chat, make love and enjoy life as only Parisians can. Students and grisettes of the Quartier Latin elbowed ladies and gentlemen of the court. Bourgeois families came to study the flippant manners of their superiors. Poodle clippers plied their trade; jugglers amused the quid nuncs with feats of dexterity; traveling dentists pulled teeth and sold balsams ; clowns tumbled, and last, but not least, pickpockets lifted purses and silk handkerchiefs with impunity. Says Augustus J. C. Hare (Walks in Paris) : "So central an artery is the Pont Neuf, that it used to be a saying with the Parisian police, that if, after watching three days, they did not see a man cross the bridge, he must have left Paris." Any popular witticism in verse was long known as un Pont-Neuf. One of the principal vendors of quack nostrums of the Pont Neuf was Montdor. He was aided by a buffoon named Tabarin, who made facetious replies to questions asked by his master, accompanied with laughable grimaces and grotesque gestures. The modern ringmaster and clown of the circus have similar scenes together, minus the selling of medicines.
Under Louis XV, thieves and entertainers were joined by recruiters, or "sellers of human flesh" who did their best to lure newcomers to Paris and others "with as much violence as the sale of Negros in the Congo". Silversmiths and other luxury businesses nearby (who gave their name to today's Quai des Orfevres) drew visitors as well.
One yearly event, held on the nearby Place Dauphine, prefigured the Salon des Refusés which would later give rise to the Impressionists. During the celebration of the Corpus Christi (Fête-Dieu) the Place Dauphine hosted one of the most magnificent reposoirs (portable altars for the Host).
Along with all the rich silverwork and tapestries placed on it, some local silversmiths ordered paintings for these. This led to art dealers being asked to participate and ultimately to the newest talents being shown at the Petite Fête-Dieu (the Small Corpus Christi), a reduced version of the Corpus Christi holiday which took place eight days later. Though their canvases were only shown from six in the morning to noon, this became an important opportunity for unknown artists to draw attention. Among other things, this led to the painters there signing their work, as was not frequent in the Salon – which was not always an advantage when the work was publicly and loudly critiqued.
Showing works which often had no pretense of a religious subject, they might then be noticed and find an entree into the official Academy. Chardin is one of the most famous painters to have started this way.
In 1720, a young man of about twenty-two, son of the man who maintained the king's billiards, displayed a canvas here showing an antique bas-relief. J.-B. Vanloo passed by, looked at the canvas for a long time, found great qualities there, and bought it. He wanted afterwards to know the young painter, encouraged him, gave him advice, of which the latter perhaps had no need, got him work, which was more useful, and eight years later, the unknown of the place Dauphine was his colleague at the Academy of Painting.... he was called Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin.
The slow decline of the bridge's central role began in 1754: "Starting in 1754, the first year of the vogue, the madness of the boulevards, it was no longer the thing to talk about the Cours [the Champs-Elysées], and still less of this poor Pont-Neuf. To the Boulevard, at once, long live the Boulevard!". Still the bridge remained a lively place through the end of the century. With time, people became wary of its reputation and other changes subdued its atmosphere; in 1840, Lacroix wrote: "Once the pont Neuf was a perpetual fair; at present, it is just a bridge to be crossed without stopping.".
First daguerrotype ever with human being?
About two years before M. Daguerre made his famous daguerrotype of Boulevard du Temple, where a human being is recognizable, the inventor photographed other places in Paris to experiment the new technique in plein air. In the very first example of his own attempts, he made an image of the Pont Neuf and the equestrian statue of Henry IV. Since early images were mirrored, at the left side (actually the right side) of the statue we can clearly see one (or two) worker(s) lying under the statue shadow.
In 1985, the art duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Pont Neuf, after years of negotiation with Paris' mayor.
- Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (The Lovers on the Bridge), a film by Leos Carax, released in 1991.
- List of crossings of the River Seine