I have this theory that every beautiful city has a river. Paris of course has the Seine.
And there are 37 bridges that span the Paris part of the Seine. It became a little bit of an obsession of mine to find the right day, to summon up all my energies and determination and walk all of these bridges in one go.
My sister is an engineer and she loves bridges; I love rivers and canals. It may be because rivers and canals flow and connect places, and I am always curious as to what is the next connection. Either way, do the bridges I must, if only to tell the tale to my sister afterwards.
And so, on this day, I was finally ready. My research told me I needed to allow for 6 hours for the walk, and I wanted to see some of the bridges with the night lights. So, I thought I would start on the first bridge at around 5 in the afternoon.
Of the 37 bridges that cross the Seine, 5 are pedestrian only while 2 are rail bridges.
Of course I knew and have walked on some of these before, in some cases many times. But it was the first time I had traced the entirety of the horseshoe that is that stretch of the Seine that passes through Paris, dividing the left bank from the right bank.
So, what did I see and what did I discover?
Well, I still think that the Pont Neuf is the most Parisian of them all. Who doesn’t love the classically beautiful arches of which there are 12? It just seems like the perfect bridge for a romantic rendez-vous. Interestingly, it is called the “new bridge” but is actually the oldest road bridge in Paris, with its first stone laid in 1578 and connecting the right bank with the left bank via the western tip of the Île de la Cité. This was also the first road bridge in Paris that has a pavement for pedestrians.
But I am especially fond of the Pont Saint-Michel immediately east of the Pont Neuf. I have walked across this bridge many times while a student in Paris: it connects the Boulevard St-Michel (in the 5e) on the left bank (the bridge opens up from the St Michel fountain, really, the start of the university area), to the fountain on the place du Châtelet (in the 1e) on the right bank. This is an important connection today as it was years ago: the present location of the bridge is where the first-ever bridge crossing the Seine was put up in the late 14th century!
On the other side of the Pont Neuf, immediately to its west, is the wonderful pedestrian-only bridge called the Pont des Arts. Only in Paris too – this is the bridge where you can find benches in the middle, allowing anyone to sit in the middle of the river and admire the panoramic view of the city in all directions. Or meet up there with your friends and have a picnic. Or simply rest, nap, read, ponder or daydream.
This is probably the bridge that I secretly love the most!
Seriously – being able to sit there in the middle of everything, with the Louvre splendidly visible from one end of the bridge, the harmoniously beautiful College de France the other, and the Notre Dame close by, I am right at the centre of civilisation! Talk about bridges connecting things. This bridge is also unusual for being a metal bridge – it is in fact the first bridge crossing the Seine to be made of metal. Loved by young people and students who often meet there, it has become a studio en plein air for students, artists, and photographers. A little piece of bohemian paradise suspended on top of the waters!