The Pont des Arts is one of the most emblematic bridges in Paris. It was the first metallic bridge to be built, precisely under the reign of Napoleon the Ist between 1802 and 1804. It is a fully pedestrian bridge and a symbol of romance for lovers in the city. It is also an element of the heart of the city, as it connects the Louvre museum which has stood there for 800 years, and the College des 4 Nations, aka the Institut de France, or the French Academy of the Arts and Sciences, which was built around 1670 to host students of newly integrated provinces after the European wars of the early 17th century.
The bridge was originally conceived as a suspended garden with many floral decorations, and there was a fee to walk through it. Ultimately a boat crashed into one of the supporting piers in 1979, which added to previous boat damage and World War I bombardment scars, so the whole structure was renovated and slightly changed, yet faithful to the original plans of Napoleon engineer Louis Alexandre de Cessart.
The bridge has had an original problem in recent years, with the appearance of ‘love locks’ (padlocks) being attached to the grid fence panels on both sides of the bridge. It became a new tradition for lovers strolling through the city, with each love lock intended to symbolise each couple’s eternally enduring love. Unfortunately the panels on the sides of the bridge became so heavy with locks (about 1500 pounds per panel!) that the very integrity of the bridge was at stake. City hall started a communication campaign to urge tourists to replace padlocks with… selfies! That did not work, however, and when one of the panels broke away and fell into the river (narrowly missing a cruise ship filled with tourists passing below), the municipality took action: the grid fence panels and their locks were removed and replaced with flats panels to which nothing can be attached.
Today that problem is resolved, yet the Pont des Arts continues to evolve with a newly established tradition for it to be the site of summer picnics where you can enjoy enchanting views of the heart of the city and frequent exhibitions and live artistic performances on it… yet another reason for it to be an area of the city that is well-loved by both tourists and Parisians.