The Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”) in Paris is a very solid and sturdy stone bridge which has withstood all the floods and high waters since 1607 without sustaining any serious damage. For this reason there is an expression in French “se porter comme le Pont Neuf”, which means that a person (usually an older person) is strong and in excellent health.
By now the Pont Neuf, despite its name, is the oldest bridge in Paris, but of course it was new at the time.
One reason the Pont Neuf has lasted so long is that they never built any houses on it. This was a sensation when the bridge was built, since before then all the bridges had houses on them — often very heavy houses that put stress on the bridge structure.
Another innovation was that the Pont Neuf was the first street in Paris to have sidewalks. Before then, there was no safe place for pedestrians to walk, except an occasional rock at the side of the street where people could take refuge when a fast horse or horse-drawn carriage came along.
This historic photo shows the Pont Neuf during the high water in the year 1910. I found this photo on an outdoor mural on the Rue de Rivoli, advertising the new Samaritaine.
If for some reason you want to count the number of bridges over the Seine in Paris, the Pont Neuf becomes a problem: do you count it as one bridge or two? Today it looks like two bridges with an island in between, but when the bridge was built the island was shorter. The bridge-builders lengthened the island by joining it up with some smaller islands, so they considered their extension of the island to be part of the bridge. And to this day both bridges share the same name, Pont Neuf.
You have the same problem with the Pont du Sully, at the upstream end of the Ile Saint-Louis. Again, there are two bridges with part of an island in between, but both bridges share the same name and were built together as part of the same project.
And what about Pont Saint Louis, which does not go all the way across the Seine, but just connects two islands?
Depending on what you count as what, there are 40, 41 or 42 bridges over the Seine in Paris. This includes the two ugly motorway bridges at the upper and lower ends of the city, since both of these are within the city limits.
Five (or six) of the Paris bridges are particularly pleasant because they are free of motor traffic. These are:
- the new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, which connects the National Library François Mitterrand with the Parc du Bercy;
- the Pont Saint Louis (if you count it), connecting the Île Saint Louis with the Île de la Cité;
- the Pont au Double, connecting the left bank with the Cathedral Notre-Dame;
- the Pont des Arts, connecting the Louvre with the Institut de France;
- the Léopold-Sédar-Senghor footbridge (formerly called the Passerelle Solférino), connecting the Tuilerie Gardens with the Musèe d’Orsay;
- and the Passerelle Debilly which leads to the Musée du quai Branly.
In some places you might read that there are only 37 bridges across the Seine in Paris, because in French they make a distinction between a pont (a bridge for cars) and a passerelle (a footbridge).
This first-generation Vélib’ bicycle station was on the island Île de la Cité between the two sections of the Pont Neuf, on the Quai de l’Horloge. The new Vélib’ Metropole now also has a station here (at last).
Location, aerial view and photos of the Pont Neuf on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2004, 2008 and 2012. I revised the text in 2019.
See more posts on bridges in Paris.
See also: The Garonne River in Toulouse (scroll down for that city’s
oldest bridge, which by coincidence is also called the Pont Neuf).