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Posts from the ‘Paris Bridges’ Category


The Pont de Bercy and its Sounds

THE PONT DE BERCY is the fourth of the thirty-five named bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits if you start counting from where la Seine enters Paris at its upstream end in the south east of the city.

The other day I went to explore the Pont de Bercy as part of the research for my Paris Bridges project, which you can find out more about here.


The Pont de Bercy is an interesting bridge that now seems to have found itself on the Parisian tourist trail. It’s quite common to see tourists exploring the bridge with cameras in hand … and with good reason.


Pont de Bercy from upstream with the floating Piscine Joséphine Baker on the left and part of the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances centre right

After six months of construction work the original Pont de Bercy, then outside the Paris city limits, was opened in 1832. It was built by the engineers Ferdinand Jean Bayard de la Vingtrie and Marie Fortuné de Verges of the Bayard de la Vingtrie & de Verges Company. It was a suspension bridge 133 metres long with a central span of 44 metres and two side spans of 45 metres each and it was also a toll bridge that could only be crossed by paying a tax – one centime per pedestrian, three centimes for two-wheeled vehicles and five centimes for four wheelers.


Pont de Bercy in 1832 – Image from Paris Illustré 1863 page 82

The amount of traffic this suspension bridge could carry was limited by its structure, which soon proved to be inadequate.

In 1861 the bridge and the area around it were incorporated into the city of Paris and it was decided to demolish the original bridge and replace it with a stronger structure. Responsibility for this new bridge fell to Edmond Jules Feline-Romany, ingénieur municipal et chef de service de la Seine dans Paris (municipal engineer and head of department of the Seine in Paris) and his deputy Paul-Emile Vaudrey.  Construction began in 1863 and the bridge was completed in 1864. This new bridge was made of stone, it was 175 meters long and 20 meters wide and it comprised five elliptical arches each 29 metres wide.

But Paris wasn’t finished with this new bridge. In 1904 the French engineer Jean Résal was engaged to widen it by 5.5 metres to accommodate Métro Line 6, the semi-circular Métro route around the southern half of the city, which was to be extended to its present day terminus at Nation. Because this part of the Métro line was (and still is) an elevated section the work involved building a viaduct with forty-one semi-circular arches to accommodate the track.

The work was completed in 1909 and Métro Line 6 began to use the viaduct the same year.


Pont de Bercy and its new viaduct soon after it opened in 1909

It wasn’t until 1986 that further structural work was carried out on the Pont de Bercy. By then the flow of traffic had increased to the point where the bridge couldn’t cope and so, on the 20th January 1986, the Paris City Council agreed to double the width of the bridge. Work began in 1989 under the direction of the engineer Jacques Monthioux. His task was to increase the width of the bridge to forty metres while at the same time making the extension structurally identical in appearance to the existing bridge with the new piers exactly aligned with the old ones and the underside and tympana of the extension mirroring those on the existing bridge.

The new, widened, Pont de Bercy was finally opened in 1992 and it’s the bridge that we see today.

Looking at the bridge today from both the upstream and downstream sides we can see that Jacques Monthioux almost met his brief. To those not in the know it’s impossible to tell that the downstream side is the original …


Pont de Bercy from downstream

And the upstream side is the extension, which despite its appearance, is not made of stone but of reinforced concrete. It does though have a genuine stone facing.


Pont de Bercy from upstream

It’s only when you venture underneath the bridge that you can actually see the join …


Pont de Bercy – with the 1864 stone bridge on the left and the modern reinforced concrete extension on the right

The work that I’m doing with my Paris Bridges project involves not only exploring the history of each of the bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits but also trying to identify and capture the characteristic sounds of each bridge.


Pont de Bercy from downstream

For anyone visiting the Pont de Bercy for the first time it’s the magnificent viaduct with its forty-one arches carrying Métro Line 6 across la Seine that is the dominating feature. My research has shown that bridges like this can have several characteristic sounds depending upon where you are listening from but if the viaduct is the dominating visual feature of the Pont de Bercy, then the sounds of the Métro passing across it must be at least one of the characteristic sounds of the bridge. So listening to and then recording the sounds of the Métro seemed like a good place to start.

I arrived at the Pont de Bercy at the nearest Métro station, Quai de la Gare, which is one of Fulgence Bienvenüe’s stations aériennes and from the platform I had an excellent view of the route of Métro Line 6 over the bridge.


Métro Line 6 crossing the Pont de Bercy viaduct

To set the scene, I recorded the sounds of trains coming in and out of the station having just passed, or about to pass over the viaduct.

Pont de Bercy – Métro station Quai de la Gare:

Although these sounds are themselves interesting they only reflect the sounds of the approach to the bridge rather than the sounds of the Métro actually on the bridge.

I thought that one way to capture the sounds of the Métro on the bridge would be to take a ride across the viaduct and listen to the sounds from inside a Métro train. So, when the next train arrived, I hopped on and made the short journey from Quai de la Gare to the next station, Bercy.

Pont de Bercy – Crossing the viaduct from Quai de la Gare to Bercy:


Descending from the Pont de Bercy to the underground Bercy Métro station

Of course, I could also record, and in fact did record, the sounds of the Métro crossing the bridge from street level but I wanted to capture something a bit extra, something that better reflected the sounds that are there but the sounds that are usually hidden from all but the most attentive listener.

It’s clear from the pictures above that any attempt to get onto the line to record the sound of the Métro as it crossed the bridge would at best result in my immediate arrest or, at worst, something far more unpleasant. An alternative plan of action was called for.

Ever mindful of the great photographer, Robert Capa’s dictum: “If your pictures aren’t good enough you’re not close enough”, I began to investigate how, if I couldn’t actually get onto the line, I might at least get as close as possible. And, as always, if there’s a will, there’s a way!

Métro Line 6 leaves the Quai de la Gare station, crosses the viaduct and then descends underground before curving to the right and entering the next station, Bercy.


Pont de Bercy viaduct sloping down to Bercy Métro station

By climbing onto a narrow ledge of the wall that separates the viaduct from the street as the Métro line begins its descent underground towards Bercy station, I was able to clamber up the ledge and by pushing my microphone through a convenient hole in the fence (I didn’t make the hole, it was already there!) I was able to capture the sounds of the trains on the slope of the viaduct. The trains passing from the left were going up the slope and those from the right were coming down.


Pont de Bercy viaduct – An MS (mid-side) stereo microphone at work

Pont de Bercy – Métro trains passing on the slope of the viaduct:

I think this recording is probably unique. I can’t think of any other place on the Paris Métro system where it’s possible to get so close to the Métro trains other than inside a station. Had I been able to put my hand through the fence I would have been able to touch the trains closest to me coming from the left.

I recorded these sounds on a Saturday afternoon while the bean counters at the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances across the street were away from their offices enjoying their weekend. Had it been a normal working day I’m sure that one of them at least would have seen me and become very suspicious about a man climbing up a wall aiming a pointy thing at a Métro train!

So, having established that the sounds of the Métro crossing the viaduct are one of the characteristic sounds of the Pont de Bercy, does the bridge have any other characteristic sounds?

I went under the viaduct to explore.


The Pont de Bercy viaduct sits on top of the bridge. On either side three lanes of traffic pass in both directions and beyond the traffic each side of the bridge carries a footpath. Beyond the bridge, the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances sits on one side and the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, a giant indoor sports arena and concert hall, sits on the other.


With its forty-one stone arches along each side and the Métro track above forming a roof the view under the Pont de Bercy viaduct at street level is quite impressive.

I walked under the viaduct listening carefully to the sounds – the sounds of passing traffic of course as well as the rather muffled sounds of the Métro passing overhead contrasting nicely with the expansive sounds of the trains I’d recorded a few minutes before. And then I came upon this …


A large puddle stretching across the two cycle lanes that run the full length of the viaduct. Right in the centre of the puddle water was dripping down from the Métro line above. This seemed to be the perfect place from which to record the sounds on the bridge.

Pont de Bercy – Sounds on the bridge:

I rather like the sound of the dripping water set as it is against the general hubbub of everything else that’s going on especially since tomorrow it most probably will have disappeared forever.

Towards the end of this sound piece you will have heard the sound of car horns and I will return to that in a moment but first, let’s explore the sounds under the bridge.


Pont de Bercy – Under the bridge

A set of stone steps leads down from the footpath on the Pont de Bercy to the Quai de la Gare and the first stone arch of the bridge at its south-westerly end. I went down to see what sounds I could find.

Pont de Bercy – Sounds under the bridge

At first the sounds were pretty much as I’d expected, the sound of water lapping against the arch, the hum of a police boat disappearing into the distance, the sound of a jogger passing by and the buzz of the traffic on the bridge overhead. But then my ear was drawn to another sound.

Moving to the edge of the arch on the upstream side I heard the sonorous tone of a boat straining at its moorings. I love sounds like this, it almost seemed as though boat was speaking directly to me.

And then a bonus, the sound of a Métro train passing over the Pont de Bercy viaduct way above me. Since I’d begun my exploration of the Pont de Bercy by recording the sounds of the Métro it seemed fitting to end with the same sounds but from yet another perspective.


Pont de Bercy – A boat straining at its moorings

And finally, back to those car horns. What were they all about?

Well, one of the things that I enjoy most about the work I do recording the urban soundscape of Paris is the process of observing. It’s true that on my perambulations around the city I spend much more time observing by listening than I do by looking and the delight of finding a completely unexpected sound is hard to describe. But occasionally, seeing something completely unexpected can fill me with delight too. Something like this …


I was just finishing recording the sounds on the Pont de Bercy under the viaduct when I heard the sound of the car horns. It’s common practice in France, as in many other countries, for motorists to sound their car horns at the sight of a newly married couple and, when I turned round, there they were straight from the church having their photograph taken under the viaduct.

A rather nice way to my end my exploration of the Pont de Bercy and its sounds I thought.


The Pont National and its Sounds

LET’S BEGIN WITH some geography! If you look at a map of Paris you will see that the city is more or less in the shape of a circle with the circumference circumscribed by the wall of traffic that is the Boulevard Périphérique. The Périphérique in effect delineates the Paris city limits, the area within the Périphérique is considered to be Paris and the immediate area beyond, the suburbs.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 3.20.42 PM

As you can see from this map, the River Seine crosses Paris in a semi-circle across the south of the city. The river flows from right to left as you look at the map so it enters the city upstream from the south-east and it leaves downstream from the south-west after passing through the centre of the city. The area within the semi-circle to the south is known as the Left Bank and everything to the north, the Right Bank.

Paris is well known for its bridges and there are thirty-seven of them crossing la Seine within the Paris city limits. However, if you look at a Paris city map and count the named bridges you will come to a total of thirty-five rather than thirty-seven. The discrepancy is accounted for by the two bridges that that carry the Boulevard Périphérique over la Seine, neither of which has an official name. Unofficially though, they do have names: the one that crosses in the south-east is known as Pont Amont, amont being French for ‘upstream’ and the one that crosses in the south-west is known as Pont Aval – and yes, you’ve guessed it, aval is French for ‘downstream’.

I’ve set myself the task of exploring all thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits. As well as exploring the history of each bridge I’m also attempting to identify the characteristic sounds of each bridge. I’ve already discovered that some of the bridges do have characteristic sounds, the sounds on, under or around the bridges and in a few cases, and more excitingly, the sounds of the actual bridges themselves.

The work I’m doing on this Paris Bridges project (that’s the working title at the moment) is not specifically designed for this blog but rather for an audio documentary that I plan to produce. I will however publish cameo blog pieces like this one from time to time to illustrate the work I’m doing.

The other day, I went to explore the first of the named upstream bridges, the Pont National.


Pont National looking from upstream

The Pont National was built between 1852 and 1853 during the Second Empire and was originally named the Pont Napoleon III. It became the Pont National in 1870.

The bridge is 188.5 metres long, it’s made up of five stone arches and it was originally built as a railway bridge to carry the Petite Ceinture across the Seine and to link the fortifications on either side.

Built between 1852 and 1869, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture, or “little belt railway”, was the first public urban transportation service in Paris and was the forerunner of today’s Paris Métro. It comprised a thirty-five kilometre line that encircled Paris and it was built mainly for transporting goods between the five main railway stations in Paris but it also offered a public transport service up until 1934.

The first Paris Métro line opened in 1900 with more modern and more rapid rolling stock together with more comfortable stations and more competitive prices than the Petite Ceinture. Consequently, the urban passenger service of the Petite Ceinture gradually began to decline. In addition, the local goods traffic grew. The Petite Ceinture operators used the loss of passenger traffic to decrease the number of passenger train movements and increase the number of goods train movements since the transportation of goods was much more lucrative than transporting urban passengers. Eventually, the urban passenger service ceased on 22 July 1934 and was replaced by a bus service. Today, twenty-three kilometres of the railway tracks of the Petite Ceinture remain including the original tracks across the Pont National.


Picture taken from the centre of the Pont National looking downstream with the surviving Petite Ceinture tracks in the foreground

With the demise of the Petite Ceinture the Pont National lost its original purpose and so in 1936 work began to widen the bridge to accommodate road traffic. When the work was completed in 1944 the bridge had expanded to a width of 34 metres.


Today, as well as carrying the surviving tracks of the Petite Ceinture and the roadway, the Pont National also carries two footpaths, one on the upstream side of the bridge and one on the downstream side.


It also carries a cycle lane on the downstream side …


And, as though bringing the original purpose of the bridge back to life, the Pont National now has two relatively new rail tracks spanning the length of the bridge.


These tracks don’t carry rail traffic today but they do carry the trams of Tram Line 3, the line that circles Paris following the site of the old military road that ran along the inside of the fortified Thiers Wall, the last defensive wall surrounding Paris.


And, along with the constant flow of traffic, it is these trams plying back and forth across la Seine that give the Pont National its characteristic sound from on the bridge.

Sounds on the Pont National:


While we can say that the sound of the trams are the characteristic sound of the Pont National from on the bridge these sounds represent only one sonic perspective of the bridge. What happens if we listen under the bridge?


Well, it is possible to go under one arch of the bridge and from there we can get a different sonic perspective.

Sounds under the Pont National:


We can hear the sound of the traffic and the trams passing overhead almost as a mirror image of the sounds on the bridge but with less precise definition. We can also hear the bridge groan from time to time whilst carrying its burden above. The constant sound though on this particular day is the sound of dripping water and this is a very functional sound. It’s the sound of water pouring out of the bottom of a large drainpipe, which is draining rainwater from the roadway above. As I was recording these sounds it was raining heavily and so the drainpipe was working overtime.

As I was about to stop recording under the bridge, a ready-mix concrete lorry passed by me under the arch and this brings me on to another sonic perspective of the Pont National.


Pont National from the Pont de Tolbiac

The Pont National does not of course stand in isolation, it’s very much part of its environment and since the mid nineteenth-century the area around the bridge has been the industrial heart of Paris.


At one end of the Pont National is the old and now closed Gare Frigorifique de Paris Bercy. Opened in 1906, this station with its refrigeration facility was built specifically to receive wine destined for the ‘Entrepôt des Vins’ in nearby Bercy, at the time the largest commercial wine distribution centre in the world. In the nineteenth century most wine arrived in Paris by boat and could only be sold in the city after passing through Customs but by the late twentieth century wine could be shipped directly from the French vineyards to the rest of the world without having to pass through Paris and so the need for the ‘Entrepôt des Vins’ declined and eventually it and this station were abandoned.

Today the immediate area around the Pont National has its fair share of large corporate offices but it’s more particularly associated with cement, concrete and aggregates for use in the building industry.


The French industrial company Lafarge occupies the Right Bank between the Pont National and the Pont de Tolbiac …


… and the Mexican company Cemex occupies the Left Bank.

Both of these companies rely heavily on industrial barges to bring in their raw materials.


Industrial barges like this one travel up and down la Seine all the time and so it’s not surprising that their sounds form a third sonic perspective of the Pont National – the sounds around the bridge.

Sounds around the Pont National:

One of the things I find fascinating about these barges is that they leave a long sonic footprint generated by their wake that can last sometimes long after the barge has passed.  I find these sonic footprints as acoustically interesting as the sound of the barges themselves.


Pont National looking from downstream

I went to explore the Pont National as part of my research for my Paris Bridges audio documentary. So what did I learn?

I learned that bridges like this have a history and associations, which are themselves worth exploring. I learned that this bridge at least does have some characteristic sounds but what those sounds are depends upon where you’re listening from. Although I was able to capture three sonic perspectives of the bridge – on it, under it and around it, the fourth perspective eluded me. Save for hearing the occasional groan of the bridge from underneath, I was unable to capture the sound of the bridge, the sound of the bridge itself speaking.  But I won’t give up, the sounds are in there somewhere and I shall return with my contact microphones and attempt to capture the sounds inside the structure of the bridge to complete the sonic tapestry of the Pont National.

What I also learned was something that I knew already. The contemporary sounds tapestry of the Pont National is not only fascinating but it’s also important.

For the average person crossing or passing by the Pont National, these sounds, if heard at all, will simply be part of the everyday sound tapestry that accompanies their lives, at best taken for granted and at worst, ignored. But these sounds are important because they are not only part of our contemporary urban soundscape but also part of our sonic heritage.

It’s a sad fact, but most of our sonic heritage has passed by completely unrecorded. For example, we can find pictures and written descriptions of the Pont National at the end of the nineteenth-century but we have no record of its sounds, even though the sounds are part of the very fabric of the bridge. What would the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture have sounded like to us if we had stood on or under the bridge as it passed? Would the barges have sounded the same as they do today? What sounds would we have heard then that we don’t hear now?

It is questions like these that compel me to record and preserve the sounds that make up our contemporary urban soundscape. In time these sounds will become history but, unlike in the nineteenth-century and before, we are now able to record and preserve that history for future generations to explore, to study and to enjoy. I think that’s worth doing.



A Small Piano – A Big Sound

WHATEVER THE TIME of year, street musicians can be found all over Paris plying their trade and bringing sunshine to the passers by.


Last Saturday afternoon I came across this gentleman occupying his usual pitch at the corner of the Quai de l’Archevêché and the Pont Saint-Louis.  He is a big man who makes a big sound from a very small piano.

A Small Piano – A Big Sound:



Pont de Puteaux to Pont de Suresnes – A Soundwalk

A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, just before the turn of the year, I spent an afternoon walking along the banks of la Seine from Pont de Puteaux to Pont de Sursenes.  Here, the communes of Puteaux and Sursenes sit on one side of the river and on the other side is the western edge of the Bois de Boulogne on the very edge of Paris.


I like this walk, I do it three or four times a year, but I’ve never featured it on this blog and it wasn’t my intention to do so on this particular winter’s day. The narration accompanying this walk was intended originally for my personal audio diary but it did occur to me afterwards that it might be of passing interest to those not familiar with this fairly well hidden pathway along the banks of la Seine.  So here is the record of my walk on a perfect winter’s day.


Pont de Puteaux to Pont de Sursenes – A Soundwalk:


The Water Tower














Ouvrages de Suresnes – The Weir





Pont de Suresnes



Péniche ‘Pourquoi Pas’



A Passing Barge – A ‘Pusher’


La Seine from Pont de Suresnes


Pont Saint Michel And Its Sounds

WHAT DO YOU DO in Paris on a rainy Saturday afternoon in early January?

Well, while the post-Christmas tourists were busy doing their thing, and there seemed to be very many of them this year, I spent the afternoon standing under a Parisian bridge doing what I enjoy doing most – listening. And my bridge of choice for this particular Saturday afternoon was the Pont Saint Michel.


The Pont Saint Michel is certainly not the most elegant of the many bridges that traverse la Seine, it took only seven months to build, but it does have a particularly rich sound environment which is why I’m attracted to it.


The present day Pont Saint Michel was built in 1857. It’s 62 metres long, it has three arches each 17.2 metres wide and it links the Left Bank of the Seine to the oldest part of Paris, the Île de la Cité. It’s not though the first bridge to cross la Seine at this point. The first bridge to do so was opened in 1387.

The original bridge was built of stone and like all the medieval bridges in Paris it wasn’t long before houses appeared on it. This proved to be catastrophic when in the terrible winter of 1407 – 1408, one of the longest and most severe recorded in medieval times, ice carried by the frozen river hit the bridge and caused it and all the houses on it to collapse. A wooden replacement bridge was built soon after again with houses on it.


Pont Saint Michel in 1577  –  Image via Wikipedia

This wooden bridge was replaced in 1623 with a bridge comprising both wood and stone designed to hold two rows of houses. It wasn’t until 1786 that an order was issued to remove all the houses from Paris bridges but even so, the houses remained on the Pont Saint Michel until 1808.

And then in 1857 the present day bridge, designed by the French engineer Paul-Martin Gallocher de Lagalisserie, was built.


So much for the history – so what about to the sounds around the Pont Saint Michel?

Pont Saint Michel and its sounds:


On this rainy, rather dreary, Saturday afternoon I approached Pont Saint Michel along the Quai de Conti from the Pont Neuf recording as I went but as the rain got worse I took shelter under the bridge.

Because of the wind, la Seine was a little rougher than usual and as I walked along the Quai de Conti I was able to capture the delicious sound of a boat creaking at its mooring as it gently rode the waves.  I also captured the sounds of a couple of fairly sparsely populated tourist boats as they passed by.


Standing under the Pont Saint Michel I could see in one direction the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris and in the other direction part of the Pont Neuf, which when seen in all its glory is one of the most elegant bridges in Paris.


Standing under the Pont Saint Michel I recorded the sounds of the river sloshing its way through the arch of the bridge in front of me. And then, as two more tourist boats approached, I decided to see what they sounded like from underneath the water as they passed. So engrossed was I with getting my microphone into the water in just the right place that I was completely unaware that the wash from the wake of a boat that had just passed was spilling over my vantage point and was about to engulf my feet. So captivated was I listening to the underwater sounds that it was only when I retrieved my microphone from under the water that I realised that my feet were equally as wet as the microphone.


Undaunted, I continued to record as two more boats passed, a Bateaux Mouches, the largest of the tourist boats to ply la Seine and the one with the loudest commentary which sounds out in several languages. Following the Bateaux Mouches came one of the smaller boats, the Batobus, the hop-on hop-off water bus that stops at eight of the key tourist spots in the city.


Listening to the sounds around Parisian bridges might not be everyone’s idea of an afternoon’s entertainment but for me it was very enjoyable and time well spent. And my Paris Soundscapes Archive is richer for it.



Viaduc d’Austerlitz

FOR OVER ONE HUNDRED years, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz has swept majestically over la Seine. Its sole purpose is to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the river from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again.

The task facing Fulgence Bienvenüe, the architect of the Paris Métro network, was how to get Line 5 across the la Seine without interfering with the river traffic. The answer came from the engineer, Louis Biette, who proposed a single-span bridge with the deck suspended from two elegant metal arches so that no pillars or supports descended into the river.

The single-span stretches for 140 metres, which even today makes it the second longest bridge in Paris. The 8.5 metre wide deck is suspended 11 metres above the river. Two stone abutments support the ends of the metal arches, one on each bank of the river, with each measuring 22 metres x 18 metres.  Each abutment also extends some 10 metres below the river.

The viaduct itself was built between 1903 and 1904 by the Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret which, under a different name, was the same company that built the Eiffel Tower.

Building the viaduct itself was relatively straightforward. Large wooden scaffolding was erected with wooden pillars sunk deep into the river bed to enable the prefabricated metal sections to be put into place. Building the approaches to the viaduct, or at least one of them, was much more complex though.

While the approach from the Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank posed no particular problems, it was a completely different story on the other side. It was decided that it was impracticable to demolish the necessary buildings on the Right Bank to facilitate a straight entry to the viaduct so instead the design called for a sharp 90° turn within a restricted space. But not only that, the line was required to make a sharp climb from under the Place Mazas to the level of the viaduct. The problem was given to the firm Daydé and Pillé who built the Grand Palais in 1900 but were really specialists in metal construction and particularly bridges.

Their solution involved the application of mathematics and the construction of a helicoidal extension to the viaduct. A helicoid I am told is a curve shaped like Archimedes’ screw, but extending infinitely in all directions. This particular helicoid has a radius of 75 metres and a slope of 4% which not only provides a neat solution to the problem but it also makes the ageing MF 67 Métro trains groan with exasperation.

MF 67 trains climbing the slope and negotiating the curve:

Jean Camille Formigé was responsible for the decorations on the pillars, the arches and the abutments of the viaduct which consist of dolphins, shells, seaweed and animal faces as well as the cast iron designs featuring the coat of arms of Paris attached to anchors.

Formigé though was not responsible for this more recent decoration on the abutment on the Left Bank side.

Adam from Invisible Paris usually knows about things like this so I asked him if he could tell me anything about this lady and why she was there. He told me that she, “ is a creation by artists Leo & Pipo (a selection of other creations can be found here, but it seems that both the photos and the places in which they are positioned are pretty random. I think only they know therefore who she is and why they put her there!

Thanks to the foresight of Fulgence Bienvenüe and Louis Biette together with the ingenuity of Daydé and Pillé, Métro Line 5 was successfully navigated across la Seine from Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz via the Viaduc d’Austerlitz.

I find the Viaduc d’Austerlitz not only visually attractive but sonically priceless. Every time I go there I am acutely aware that the screeching of each MF 67 train is a sound that is fast disappearing. The old trains are gradually being replaced by the swanky new, more efficient, cleaner and quieter MF 2000 trains. That’s clearly the right thing to do … but I can’t help feeling sorry that we will lose one of the sounds that defines Paris in the process.

It seems appropriate therefore to leave you with the sounds of the short ride from Quai de la Rapée station, under Place Mazas, up the slope and round the helicoidal curve, across the Viaduc d’Austerlitz over la Seine to Gare d’Austerlitz station. It’s a journey of one minute and thirty seconds but it spans over one hundred years of history.

Quai de la Rapée to Gare d’Austerlitz:


The Pont des Arts and Padlock Pollution

THE PONT DES ARTS is one of many delightful bridges in Paris.  It’s an iron-framed, wooden-floored, footbridge spanning the Seine from the Louvre to the Institut de France – a symbolic conjoining of knowledge to power.

The original Pont des Arts was built at the beginning of the nineteenth-century and comprised an iron framework with nine arches.  Over the years it suffered structural damage from a succession boats colliding into it and from aerial bombardment during two world wars.  In 1977 the bridge suffered a partial collapse after being hit by yet another barge.  This proved to be terminal and the bridge was rebuilt between 1981 and 1984 preserving the look of the original bridge but reducing the number of arches from nine to seven, presumably to give the river traffic a fighting chance of negotiating the bridge without damaging it.

Today, the Pont des Arts is a favourite with artists, photographers and of course, tourists, taking advantage of the unique view along the Seine while the working barges and pleasure boats rumble past on the river below.

The sounds on the Pont des Arts:

A relatively new feature to be found on the Pont des Arts, as well as on some other bridges in Paris, are the cadenas d’amour – the love padlocks.

Love them or hate them, there they are – love tokens locked to the bridge by couples who have thrown the keys into the river.

The Paris city authorities are not in favour.  They say the practice “poses the question of preserving heritage,” and that “in time, these padlocks will have to be removed”,  …  “the rusty locks are becoming an eyesore on one of Paris’ most photogenic monuments.”  I’m inclined to agree.

In conciliatory mood, the Paris authorities say they will only remove the padlocks from its bridges once it has come up with an “alternative solution”.

One possible solution might be to install one or several iron, tree-like structures, as has already been done in Moscow for example, where people can hang their padlocks.

The sounds under the Ponts des Arts:

The Pont des Arts is a delightful structure and, personally, I think that the cadenas d’amour add nothing to its charm. They seem to be impossible to escape from.  Even viewing the bridge from below and with the magnificent façade of the Louvre in the background these trinkets are seen to litter the bridge. But, I’m sure there are those who think the cadenas d’amour have a charm of their own – not least the people, now long gone, who left them there in the first place.