History of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim in Paris
The Pont de Bir-Hakeim is one of the many bridges over the River Seine, and going between the 15th and 16th Arrondissements by the Ile aux Cygnes island, it is a two tier bridge that is now on the register of historical monuments in Paris.
The history of Bir-Hakeim bridge
For the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 a metal footbridge was constructed, which was named the Passy foot bridge and it went over the River Seine on either side of the Ile aux Cygnes, which in English translates to Swan Island, and is a man made island that was constructed to protect the Port de Grenelle.
Travelling from the 15 to the 16th Arrondissements, this bridge was an immediate success for inhabitants of the area, however, by the start of the 1900s, it was not meeting the needs of the city and plans were put in place to replace it with a road and railway bridge, but still with pedestrian access as well.
It was a structural engineer and designer called Louis Biette that worked on the two tier Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge in conjunction with the contractors Dayde and Pille, after the competition had been won by them in late 1902. However, it was the French architect Jean-Camille Formige, who was a Paris municipal architect, that was responsible for the decoration of this new bridge in Paris.
Jean-Camille Formige commissioned three different artists and sculptors to produce the decorations for the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, and it was Gustave Michel that produced the two different cast iron statue groups. One of these was designed to represent boatmen, and the other was to represent ironsmith riveters.
You will also be able to discover an elegant central arch with its pillars that sits on the Ile aux Cygnes, which supports the Metro railway viaduct on top of this two tier bridge over the River Seine that was completed in 1905. And this arch has four monumental stone statues in high-relief, which are allegorical figures of Science and Labor sculpted by Jules-Felix Coutan, and Electricity and Commerce that were produced by Jean Antoine Injalbert.
And as we mentioned this bridge was completed in 1905 with elegent stone pillars that the railway viaduct rested on that had extremely ornate decorations as well, and when this was inaugurated, it was given the name of the Passy Viaduct, after the area in Paris where it went to.
However, due to the weight of traffic over the years and the Metro becoming used even more frequently, the Passy Viaduct needed strengthening, which was carried out from 1930 through to the start of World War II, but unfortunately, some of the ornate decorations, such as those on the pillars was destroyed during this process.
And during this time by the central arch on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge that rests on the tip of the Ile aux Cygnes, a bronze equestrian statue was put in place, and called La France Renaissante, this was produced by the Danish sculptor Holger Wederkinch.
Yet it was not until 1948 that this bridge in Paris was renamed the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, which is what it is still known as today, and this name was chosen to commemorate the June 1942 victory of General Koenig over Rommel in the Libyan desert, known as the Battle of Bir-Hakeim where Free French forces went into battle against the enemy.
And even more recently the Pont de Bir-Hakeim bridge has been placed on the supplementary list of historical monuments in Paris, so as to preserve this piece of history for many years to come.