La Seine and Its Bridges: Oldest Bridge in Paris

Pont Neuf
The Pont Neuf was commissioned by Henry III in 1576.
Despite its name, which translates as New Bridge, it is now the oldest bridge in Paris.

Henry III was in tears when he laid the foundation stone for the bridge in May 1578.
This was because he had just returned from funeral services for two close friends who had been killed in duels. So, at first, the bridge was refered to as the "Bridge of Tears".
This was soon replaced with the name Pont Neuf because in its construction, Henry broke with tradition whereby all Parisian bridges had houses on them from one end to the other. No houses were to be built on this bridge.

Before the construction was finished Henry III was assassinated and the bridge was completed in 1604 by his successor Henry IV.

When Henry IV was assassinated in 1610 the Grand Duke of Tuscany presented his widow, Marie de Medicis, with a bronze horse as a memorial. The boat that transported the horse to France sank off the coast of Sardinia in 1613 and the horse went down with the ship. A year later it would be found and set on to Paris. It would be placed on the Pont Neuf rider-less for twenty-one years.
In 1635 Louis XIII had a statue make of his father Henry IV and placed him on the horse. This it would sit for the next 157 years.
In 1792, in the third year of the French Revolution, the Paris mobs took down the horse and the riding king. They smashed them both to bits. Most would go off to be melted down while the rest went into the Seine.
The Pont Neuf would remain without a statue until the return of the monarchy in 1814.

Louis XVIII then ordered a replica of the horse and Henry IV cast in bronze, using part of the melted down statue of Napoléon that had been on top of the Vendome column.
The caster was happy for the work, but also was a Bonapartist.
He is said to have placed a small statue of Napoléon in the right arm of Henry IV's right arm. In the belly of the horse he placed papers containing songs and celebrations from the Napoléonic era.

  • Directions: Connects the streets of Rue Dauphine and Rue du Pont-Neuf, cutting across Ile de la Cite where Ste. Chapelle and Notre Dame are located.




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