You may know the Pont des Arts (also known as Passerelle des Arts) because of its international reputation as the bridge of romance, but you may not know it was the very first metal bridge to be built in Paris. Modern for its time, it spanned the Seine in central Paris, joining Quai de Conti with Quai des Tuileries.
Also known as the ‘Love Lock Bridge’, Pont des Arts has been through several transformations but has now been restored to its original state. Although bereft of ‘love-locks’, the bridge remains a romantic icon for tourists all over.
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Where is the Pont des Arts bridge?
The pedestrian bridge connecting the 1st and the 6th arrondissements is located near the Institute de France. The bridge is situated by the Pont Neuf and the Île de la Cité. The closest metro station to reach the bridge is metro line 7, stopping at Pont Neuf.
A brief history of Pont des Arts
The Pont des Arts bridge was originally built during the reign of Napolean Bonaparte I, somewhere between 1802 and 1804. It was inspired by the bridge across the River Severn in England, which was also the world’s first iron cast bridge.
Bonaparte asked his engineers, Louis-Alexandre de Cessart and Jacques Lacroix-Dillion, to design a similar bridge that would be adorned with flowers and embellishments to resemble a garden suspended over the Seine where pedestrians could stroll, sit on benches, and enjoy the exquisite views on either side.
The Pont des Arts bridge was named after the Palais du Louvre (now the Louvre Museum) which used to be referred to as Palais des Arts or the Arts Palace during the First Empire. Despite charging a toll in the form of a penny, the bridge was adored by pedestrians who loved to enjoy a stroll from the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre triangle to the College des Quatre Nations (renamed Institute de France).
Reconstruction of Pont des Arts
With its 9 arches and hanging baskets of flowers, the bridge soon became a hassle for the river traffic and was reconstructed during the Second Empire. Later on, the bridge suffered tremendous damage from the air bombings of the World Wars. Paired with the collisions from the boats, the bridge was deemed unsafe and was shut down for pedestrians in 1970.
Ten years later, Louis Arretche put together a project to reconstruct the bridge using steel in place of cast iron. The project faced opposition from not only the river services but also from locals as they believed it would spoil the views of the Louvre Museum.
The original Pont des Arts was completely demolished in 1981, and a project for the new bridge began in 1985. The new bridge would retain its name as Pont des Arts, but have 7 arches instead of the original 9, and would be supported by steel instead of cast iron.
The Love Lock Bridge
Paris, the city of love, has multiple romantic spots scattered across its length and breadth, but perhaps the most romantic is the Pont des Arts. With its proximity to the Louvre, it is a popular tourist spot, and thanks to the perfect light and beautiful settings, it is the go-to spot for most romantics.
Years ago, young couples and lovers started engraving their names on padlocks and attaching them to the railing of the bridge. Soon enough, it came to be known as the Love Lock Bridge or the Lover’s Bridge. Although the tradition did not first begin in Paris, the Pont des Arts became the most famous bridge for love locks.
Pont des Arts Love Locks
The concept of the love-lock bridge, although first seen in a tragic Serbian poem, was popularized by the Italian film Ho Voglia di Te in 2007. In one of the scenes, the protagonists attached a padlock to a lamppost on the Ponte Milvo in Rome, symbolizing the locking and safeguarding of their love. They then threw the key into the Tibet river to ensure the lock was never opened.
Soon enough, young lovers all over Europe began to mimic this scene. In 2008, the first padlocks of love were seen on Pont des Arts. Thanks to its romantic location and steel frame, it became the love-lock bridge. It was tradition for lovers and travelers alike to engrave their name and attach it to a lock on the bridge and then throw the key into the River Seine. The selling of padlocks became a business project for many sellers.
What happened to the love locks on Pont des Arts?
In 2014, the Pont des Arts began feeling the weight of the love locks on its structure with more than 700,000 locks weighing almost as much as 45 tons. The thought of more locks being added with each passing year, and a section of the bridge collapsing under their weight, set the Mayor’s office on high alert.
In August 2014, the Paris Mairie started a campaign, “Love without Locks” and asked travelers and tourists to find a different way to declare their love without locks. When that did not work particularly well, the authorities had no other option but to remove the locks and the railings and replace them with glass panels to prevent further damage to the iconic bridge.
While most of the love locks were recycled and repurposed, the Paris authorities auctioned off a chunk of them, both the padlocks and the grilles they were attached to, to donate the proceedings to charities that help refugees. The minimum prices ranged from €150 to €10,000, and bidders around the world jumped in to own a piece of the iconic bridge.
Can you still put locks on Pont des Arts?
You cannot put locks on the grills of Pont des Arts but while walking around, you might come across some padlocks being attached to the lampposts. The bridge is mostly lock-free and offers absolutely gorgeous views of the Seine, the Louvre, and the Institute de France.
Creativity on the Pont des Arts
No matter how many transformations and reconstructions it went through, the Pont des Arts retained its long tradition of inspiring creatives of all kinds. The wooden slabs give it an old-world charm where you can find jugglers, musicians, artists, and painters all lost in their creative worlds with some of the best backdrops of the city.
The bridge resembles a stage where one can perform whatever they like, and always leave with applause and a sense of happiness.
The Pont des Arts is a wonderful people-watching spot. It is a popular filming location and has been seen in Emily in Paris, Gossip Girl, Lupin, and the finale of Sex and the City (And Just Like That as well!), as well as the French film Amélie.
You can also find Instagrammers in full action following fashion models and influencers marching down the rickety wooden slabs. (However, be careful of those slabs and the bridge is in a bit of disarray and needs some repair, watch your footing!)
If nothing else, it is one of the perfect spots to bask in the golden hour and watch the Seine glittering and the city lighting up for another fun night around town.
What can you take a photo of from the Pont des Arts bridge?
The views from the bridge are mesmerizing throughout the day. In the summer, when the days are longer, the entire bridge is filled with people enjoying mini-picnics with wines and cheese along with the dusky light of the evening sun.
During sunrise and sunset, the light hits the Seine in just the right ways to form those shimmering waves. With the Eiffel Tower in the backdrop and a spacious yet intimate feel of the bridge, it is quite easy to understand why it is named the bridge of romance.
You can admire the postcard-perfect views of the Louvre Palace and a bit of the central courtyard as well as the proud building of the Institute de France which houses the headquarters of the Académie Francaise.
Now that you know a little bit of its history you can stroll across or have a seat and appreciate this romantic spot just a tiny bit more!
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