Paris – Pont des Arts at Night

The Pont des Arts was the brainchild of one Napoleon Bonaparte who asked engineers to design a bridge that would “resemble a garden suspended over the Seine, adorned with flowers and furnished with benches on which pedestrians could rest.” He didn’t quite get his suspended garden, but he did get one of the most elegant bridges that spans the meandering River Seine in Paris.

The bridge has seen its fair share of drama over the years and suffered damage during bombardments in World War I and II. In 1979, a hapless barge captain crashed into one of the supporting pillars causing a 60 metre collapse. The next time you’re having a bad day at work, imagine having to tell your boss that you had just destroyed a historic city landmark that had been commissioned by the one time Emperor of the French! I bet that email you sent with a spelling mistake doesn’t seem so bad now.

The Pont des Arts was rebuilt and reopened in 1984 by Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris. By 2008, a new issue was causing new structural problems; I am of course referring to the scourge known as ‘love locks’. Couples would write messages of undying love on a padlock, attach it to the railing of the bridge and then throw the key into the Seine.

By 2015, the rails of the bridge were plastered in over 700,000 of these objectionable padlocks and it wasn’t long before the inevitable happened. Part of the railing collapsed under the weight. The rails have now been replaced by rather ugly clear panels to prevent more visitors (idiots?) declaring their everlasting amour for each other by vandalising a historic and beautiful bridge.

F16 | 20 secs | ISO 100 | 28 mm

Nevertheless, the Pont des Arts remains one of my favourite spots in Paris. One of the best times to visit is around dusk. I enjoy sitting on one of the benches that line the bridge simply watching the artists setting up their easels alongside the disappointed enamored couples wondering where they should attach their love locks now.

The photo above was taken during the evening blue hour. The city lights however gave the sky a rather attractive purple appearance. How appropriate for a city with such a rich history of royalty. I set my tripod up to the west of the bridge on Quai François Mitterrand and composed my shot with the domed Institut de France to the left of the frame. The elegant beauty of Paris did the rest!

View from the Pont des Arts towards the Institut de France
F16 | 20 secs | ISO 100 | 42 mm

The views all around the bridge are among the best in the City of Light. To the north, the bridge leads to the 17th century Institut de France with its ornate cupola. (above). To the west, the Ile de Cité dominates the scene with the Pont Neuf in the foreground. The towers of Notre Dame Cathedral, the spire of the Sainte Chapelle and the conical towers of the medieval Conciergerie are all visible.

To the east, the quays of the Left Bank of the Seine and the Musée d’Orsay provide an elegant foreground to the setting sun. The Eiffel Tower rises above the scene in the distance to complete this perfectly Parisian tableau.

Just sitting here people watching as the city lights come on as night descends is one of the great Parisian experiences in my humble opinion. And……. it’s free.

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