Paris, which possesses so many bridges, bequeathed to it by all periods, has perhaps never had so much to praise as on this occasion for the work of its architects and artists. Previous attempts at modern iron bridges have not all been successful, and if from a practical point of view, progress had been made on the massive and repeated arched bridges of the past, which take up a lot of space in the water, which is detrimental to navigation services and presents serious inconveniences during floods, nothing good architectural had yet been conceived. The Alexander III Bridge achieves this problem, being of remarkable elegance, and lending itself, with its single arch, boldly thrown over the river and of vast dimensions, to traffic on and above the water. It completes in the happiest way the new ornamental centre of Paris which has been formed around the Champs-Elysées.
This bridge presented almost insurmountable difficulties to build: it had to be grandiose, imposing, of great style, so as not to break the harmony of the Esplanade and the monuments of the left bank: it was wanted to be coquettish, slender and graceful so that it would fit in well with the new buildings of the Avenue Nicolas II: only iron could provide the strength combined with the lightness sought, but becoming artistic, or at least taking on airs of distinction, which does not happen often. We did it! This bridge is one of the astonishments of the visitors of the exhibition: it obtains, one can say, the universal approval, and whether one approaches by boat, or prepares to cross it, under its various aspects, it allures and enchants the sight.
From afar, the happy curve of the bridge, formed of a single iron band, first attracts the eye, surprised by the immense opening it thus gives to the waters of the river to pass. The curved line of the arch and the horizontal line of the deck meet almost at the centre of a cartouche bearing the nymphs of the Seine downstream, and the nymphs of the Neva upstream by the sculptor Récipon. As the curve moves away from the middle of the bridge and the gap between the arch and the deck becomes more pronounced, the pilasters rise, supporting garlands of a new and very successful decorative effect. This superb bridge has a span of 107.3 metres and a width of 40 metres. Its framework, composed of 15 arches of cast steel, rests on granite abutments built on foundations of such strength that they need not fear any sagging; the abutments form a vault for the circulation of the bank. Magnificent stone staircases lead up to the level of the quays and the deck of majestic proportion, with its 40 metres width, divided into three bands, a 20 metre carriageway, and 2 pavements of 10 metres each.
The entrance to the bridge is flared; coming straight into the axis of the bridge, we thus have on the right and left two slightly concave curves of the parapet starting from the access ramp to the bank and ending at the pylons marking the actual entrance to the bridge.
The first architectural ornament on the quay is a granite pyramid, encircled by bronze and bearing four large lanterns; this is the junction of the quay and the bridge.
A few metres of openwork parapet and here is one of the four lions guarding the ramps leading down to the Seine. We escaped the allegory: these lions, adorned with fruit upstream and flowers downstream, are being stroked by children who, in reality, would run away very quickly; But the system being clever, we must recognise that these lions, calm and dignified, have a beautiful appearance, like, moreover, those which are their counterparts at the other end of the bridge and which, in the artist's mind, should rather represent nobility in strength and valour, because they are trampling on trophies of flags instead of sheaves of wheat. Beautiful decorative groups, all in all, and well within the note of movement. Superb, delicately sculpted white marble vases grace the ramp on the river side.
Finally, marking the very entrance to the bridge are high pylons of truly monumental appearance. These pylons are decorated at their base, on three sides, with the prows of ships, and, facing the entrance, with large symbolic figures representing, on the right bank, upstream, the France of Charlemagne, by Alfred Lenoir, and contemporary France, by G. Michel; on the left bank, upstream, the France of the French, by G. Michel. Michel; on the left bank, upstream, France during the Renaissance; downstream, France under Louis XIV. The embedded columns, united like the faces of the pylons, which are embellished with very discreet cartouches of bas-reliefs, have capitals of Ionic order; they support a frieze loaded with ornaments, and an entablature surmounted by the gilded groups of which we spoke, representing upstream, on the right bank, the Renommée des Arts, and downstream, the Renommée de Sciences; upstream, on the left bank, the Renommée du Commerce; downstream, the Renommée de l'Industrie.
In the bases of the statues of France at the various times are marble cartouches. The cartouche on the pylon on the right bank, upstream, bears an inscription commemorating the grandiose ceremony that took place during the Tsar's historic stay in Paris. It reads as follows:
7 October 1896
His Majesty Nicholas II
Emperor of all the Russias
Her Majesty the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna
President of the French Republic
Have laid the foundation stone
of the Alexander III Bridge
The cartouche of the opposite pylon received a commemorative inscription of the inauguration of the Exhibition by the Presidents of the Republic.
April 14th 1900
President of the French Republic
the Universal Exhibition
the Alexandre III Bridge
The cartouches of the pylons on the left bank give the names of the main organisers of the Exhibition, headed by the general commissioner, Mr Alfred Picard, who, all in all, acquitted himself very well in this overwhelming task.
After the pylons, the balustrade is cut with pedestals, decorated with pretty bronze groups; children mounted on sea monsters; then magnificent lamp-posts of gilded bronze, decorated with children dancing a round, holding on to a garland of marine plants, or playing with live fish; on the ground, fish, shellfish. Finally, the keystone of the bridge itself is surmounted on each side by a colossal bronze group, from which branches with reed leaves extend, supporting spindle-shaped lanterns. The whole ensemble produces a charming effect in the evening, when the electricity sparkles in these innumerable lamp-posts.
At each end of the parapet is a large bronze catouche with a golden plume, bearing the inscription: Pont Alexandre III. Also noteworthy are the fourteen three-branched candelabra placed on the bronze bridge support. All of this is very carefully done, with very rich ornamentation, but in no way heavy. One feels that the architects, Messrs Cassin-Bernard and Cousin, architects, and Messrs Réval and Alby, engineers, were concerned with providing Paris with a work of utility that was a credit to them from all points of view, and there is no need to bargain for praise.
©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900