Pont Neuf means New Bridge, which it was back in 1607 when it was inaugurated by King Henry IV. Today, the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris is the oldest bridge spanning the River Seine in the city. It crosses the western tip of Ile de la Cite, one of two natural islands in the river within the city, and home of the magnificent Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. It connects the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) with Rive Droit (Right Bank) in the heart of the oldest part of the city.
The history of Pont Neuf is central to the history of the city. The need for a Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris was recognized as early as 1550 when traffic became too heavy for the Pont Notre Dame. The decision to actually build it wasn't made until 1577 when there were sufficient funds for the construction. King Henry III laid its first stone in 1588, and it was completed by his son in 1607. An equestrian statue of the monarch stands at the place where the bridge crosses the Ile de la Cite. If you decide to explore Pont Neuf on a boat, tour this is where the majority of the sightseeing cruises dock.
A history of Pont Neuf is not complete without a discussion of both commerce and crime. Even before the bridge was completed, brigands and thieves hung out near it, waylaying travelers as they passed by. There was even a Pont Neuf gallows to dispatch the worst of them. In the eighteenth century, it drew street performers, pickpockets, charlatans, and prostitutes and their clientele. But more legitimate businesses also sprung up: tooth pullers and French poodle groomers, vendors of all sorts of goods, silversmiths, and rug sellers. Even the artists of the time would sell their canvases here. Today, you can actually view some of these paintings in the city's museums, including the Louvre, which is within walking distance. Artists were allowed to display their work only until noon, at which time they moved to the emerging Montmartre neighborhood.
The history of Pont Neuf as a center of Parisian culture began to decline in the mid-1700s, when the Champs Elysees and the other broad boulevards for which Paris is famous became passé. Most of the introductory panoramic Paris tours include the Pont Neuf on their itineraries, and any visitor who embarks on Seine River cruises will undoubtedly at least pass by it. It is truly a lovely sight from the water; a magnificent sight at night, with the cityscape dramatically illuminated around it.
The Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris is built of stone and comprised of two spans. The one from the left bank to the Ile de la Cite contains five arches; the one from the right back to the island has seven arches. Before the bridge was built, all Paris bridges also supported houses, but not this one. Henry IV decided not to allow houses so there would be an unobstructed view of the Louvre. And this bridge was the first to have pedestrian walkways with protections built in, so strollers were not run down by carriages or splashed with mud.