Pont Neuf, Paris, France
When is a new bridge actually an old bridge? It’s not a riddle, but it is one of those fascinating little dichotomies you find in Europe. Pont Neuf (as anyone with a smattering of schoolbook French will know) means “new bridge” which seems somewhat ironic considering that it is actually the oldest currently standing bridge to cross the River Seine in Paris!
Situated near the western point of Ile de la Cite, the island in the middle of the river, it is a stunning design that marked the end of the Middle Ages. Planned in 1556 during the reign of Henri II the construction was opposed by the Provost of the merchants, as well as the market holders trading on the other bridges who could see no need for this additional bridge. The first stone wasn’t laid until 1578, and work was interrupted until it was opened by Henri IV in 1603. Another four years passed before it was christened with the name it bears today.
Pont Neuf’s history, like that of all structures of its period, is rich and colourful, being a meeting place where both the sophisticated and vulgar pleasures of the capital could be enjoyed. This long antiquity, together with the breathtaking vistas of the Parisienne skyline would surely satisfy even the most jaded tourist; however, a new, and wonderfully romantic, tradition is making a dramatic impact on this famous landmark.
My first impression of the bridge, from the right bank of the Seine on a wonderfully sunny September day, was that it looked to be made of gold. It’s not until much closer inspection that you see what is creating this sparkle. Padlocks – thousands of them! And no, not the sparkly Tiffany or Pandora charm type either – some just plain lock up your shed padlocks, others a little more exotic.
But why you may ask? Do they have a really serious problem with bike theft? Is it a padlock amnesty? No, this is Paris, the city of love, and the answer is much more romantic than that. A recent lovers ritual encourages a newly committed couple to inscribe their names onto a padlock, to secure the lock somewhere on the bridge and then symbolically throw the key into the Seine. This gesture is to guarantee happily ever after, and is the perfect finale to a proposal in Paris. This tradition has left this old new bridge festooned with messages of love and endearment by couples from every corner of the world.
Apparently it’s happening elsewhere too, I saw some evidence of early adopters in London and Rome too, but nothing quite on the scale, nor beauty, of Pont Neuf. The question is, will it catch on here? I can think of a few bridges that could benefit from a little loving adornment but who is game? Let me know if you have left a message of love on a bridge somewhere.
Photography by Masterpieces Photography in Paris