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Pont Alexandre III Bridge: History, Statues & Facts

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about the Bridge Alexandre III, crossing over the River Seine in Paris. Explore the history and construction of this iconic monument and also, discover the beautiful and elaborate artwork decorating it.

The Pont Alexandre III

Take a look at the picture.

The Alexandre III Bridge, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower
The Alexandre III Bridge, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower

It is Paris. You probably noticed the Eiffel Tower, the River Seine and a bridge. Did you notice that the bridge is subtle and perfectly integrated into the surroundings? That's because it was designed to have a low profile and blend with the skyline of Paris. However, it is not an ordinary bridge. It is full of art and underneath the beautiful statues and decoration, lays an industrial steel structure.

The Pont Alexandre III is one of the bridges that cross over the River Seine in Paris (Pont is the French word for bridge). It was built for the World Fair held in Paris in 1900; together with the Grand Palais and other structures. The bridge is in the heart of the city and connects the important commercial avenue of Champs-Élysées with the museum area of Les Invalides. It is regarded as one of the most elegant and artistic bridges in the French capital and has been the perfect scenery for many films. All its fine artwork make it not only a road but a destination itself.

The bridge has a length of over 500 feet and is about 130 feet wide. It has three traffic lanes in each direction, bike lanes and very wide sidewalks. The structure consists of steel arches that are the base for the steel beam and columns that support the weight of the road. It is a modern metal structure and the light gray look on the exterior is merely decorative.

Steel Structure of the Alexandre III Bridge
Steel Structure

History of the Alexandre III Bridge

The French government requested the designers of the Alexandre III Bridge to make the bridge low enough not to obstruct the view to the buildings of Les Invalides, where the tomb of Napoleon is located. However, the structures also had to cross the river in a single span, to keep the river easy to navigate. The arch was the perfect solution.

The Alexandre III Bridge
The Alexandre III Bridge

The bridge was named after the Russian Tsar Alexandre III, as a diplomatic gesture from the French government to celebrate the Russian-French alliance that was established a few years before. Alexandre's son and successor, the Tsar Nicolas II laid the first stone of the project in 1896.

The construction of the bridge took place from 1897 until 1900. This project was a pioneer in the use of prefabricated structural elements, as some parts were cast miles away from Paris and then taken there to be put together. The works were finished on time for the World Fair and the bridge quickly became an important part of the Parisian landscape. Paris' streets were illuminated by electric lights for the first time when the bridge and the fair were inaugurated.

By the end of the 20th century, the bridge was completely restored, but it kept its original aspect.

Artwork of the Alexandre III Bridge

Pillars

The four massive pillars at each corner of the bridge are also part of the structure and serve as counterweights for the steel arches. They were decorated with pilasters, several embellishments, and statues. At the front of each pillar is a female statue, representing a time in French history. The pieces on the southern bank (the side of Les Invalides) are dedicated to the times of Louis XIV and the Renaissance. The northern pillars are dedicated to the modern France and the times of Charlemagne.

Pillar of the France of Louis XIV
Pillar of the France of Louis XIV

Statues

There are golden statues on top of the pillars. Each of the four pieces is made out of bronze covered with golden plates and consists of a lady and a horse with wings. These sculptures represent the arts, agriculture, commerce and war.

Two large copper statues decorate the middle part of the bridge, facing each side of the river. One is called the Nymphs of Seine in honor to the river running through Paris and the other is the Nymphs of the Neva, named after the river that runs through Saint Petersburg, in Russia.

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