jeudi 25 août 2011

Expo 1900 Paris - The Alexander III bridge

This bridge with the span of its wonderful arch
Joins the past to the present, all Time in its march
From century to century, uniting the peoples.

These verses of J.-M. de Heredia which were read by Paul Mounet at the laying of the foundation stone of the Alexander III bridge on 7 October 1896, in the presence of the Czar Nicholas II and President Felix Faure, remind us that this
famous bridge was connected with the Franco-Russian Alliance and with the Great Exhibition of 1900. Its name was given in 1896, and the nine coat of arms on it represented the different historical provinces of Russia.

The idea of joining the Champs Elysees to the Esplanade des Invalides dates from the early part of the last century.

During the Restoration a chain bridge was built so as to continue the central avenue of the Invalides, but an accident and several protests from the City Council caused it to be broken up in 1828, before it had so much as been made use of.

This unfortunate beginning showed them that, if they wished to build a bridge at this spot, it ought to be made :
1. So as not to hide the view of the Invalides seen from the Champs Elysees.
2. So as not to obstruct the view of the Seine seen from the Concorde bridge.

On the other hand the bridge must not be constructed on piles since the bend at this spot would make it difficult for river craft to pass.

Such were the considerations which are responsible for the present shape of the bridge, with its single low lying arch spanning 107 meters.

It was built after the plans of the engineer Jean Resal and Amédée Alby, and its decoration was the work of several architects, Cassien-Bernard and Gaston Cousin. The construction lasted from 1896 to 1900.

Two monumental columns decorate the two extremities, and are carved with the allegorical statues of women representing the different epochs of French history: the Feudal Times, Louis XIV, the Revolution, Modern Times. The columns are each surmounted with the statue of a Herald holding a golden Pegasus, the work
of Fremiet, Coutan and Marqueste.

This bridge which was inaugurated on the opening of the Universal Exhibition on April 14th 1900, was considered to have been a daring masterpiece.

Its decoration however gave rise, at the time to a good deal of discussion. The emblems and coat of arms on the columns and the figures on the chandeliers caused some curious controversies.

It was said that the artist had made mistakes, that he had hung the Cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit to the Collar of St Michael, and that he had no real tradition to sanction his taking cock as a symbol of France.

To day these details are overlooked. and hardly prevent us admiring. this fine bridge joins two of the most Imposing parts of Paris and adds an architectural beauty to the stylish embankments of the Seine.

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