The Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris, France. Its name, which was given to distinguish it from older bridges that were lined on both sides with houses, has remained. It stands by the western point of the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the river that was the heart of medieval Paris.
The bridge is composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité, another of seven joining the island to the right bank. Old engraved maps of Paris show how, when the bridge was built, it just grazed the downstream tip of the Île de la Cité; since then, the natural sandbar building of a mid-river island, aided by stone-faced embankments called quais, has extended the island. Today the tip of the island is the location of the Square du Vert-Galant, a park named in honour of Henry IV, nicknamed the “Green Gallant”.
As early as 1550, Henry II was asked to build a bridge here because the existing Pont Notre-Dame was overloaded, but the expense was too much at the time.
In 1577, the decision to build the bridge was made by King Henry III who laid its first stone in 1578, during which year the foundations of four piers and one abutment were completed. A major design change was made in 1579 requiring the widening of the bridge to allow houses to be built (though they never were); the piers on the long arm were made longer to accommodate this change. These piers were built over the next nine years. After a long delay beginning in 1588, due in part to the Wars of Religion, construction was resumed in 1599. The bridge was completed under the reign of Henry IV, who inaugurated it in 1607.
The Île de la Cité looking upstream from the West, with the Pont Neuf spanning the Seine
The bastions give the Pont Neuf its fortified air
Like most bridges of its time, The Pont Neuf is constructed as a series of many short arch bridges, following Roman precedents. It was the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses in addition to a thoroughfare, and was also fitted with pavements protecting pedestrians from mud and horses; pedestrians could also step aside into its bastions to let a bulky carriage pass. The decision not to include houses on the bridge can be traced back directly to Henry IV, who decided against their inclusion on the grounds that houses would impede a clear view of the Louvre, which he extended substantially during his reign.
The bridge had heavy traffic from the beginning; it was for a long time the widest bridge in Paris. The bridge has undergone much repair and renovation work, including rebuilding of seven spans in the long arm and lowering of the roadway by changing the arches from an almost semi-circular to elliptical form (1848–1855), lowering of sidewalks and faces of the piers, spandrels, cornices and replacing crumbled corbels as closely to the originals as possible. In 1885, one of the piers of the short arm was undermined, removing the two adjacent arches, requiring them to be rebuilt and all the foundations strengthened.
A major restoration of the Pont Neuf was begun in 1994 and was completed in 2007, the year of its 400th anniversary.