Friday, February 7, 2014

Paris Sunday on the Seine

Le Pont-Neuf et la Cité by Giuseppe Canella, 1832, Carnavalet Museum, Paris

Last week, the Midwest and the South of the United States shivered under the frigid winds and snows of a Polar Vortex while California withered in the throes of an unrelenting drought. At the same time, the good citizens in the Italian towns of Pisa and Florence prayed for the rain to stop before the rising waters of the Arno River engulfed their towns. 

In Paris, however, Parisians awoke to a sunny, mild Sunday. It was a day lovely enough to make all the church bells of Paris peal. And they were doing just  that as JR and I left our apartment headed for a walk along the banks of the Seine. It's true that it was exactly eleven o'clock when the bells began to ring, but I'm sure that was just a coincidence.

The entire walk along the Seine, which is open to the public on Sunday only, runs for miles, and most of it is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And no wonder since both sides of the river are lined with some the city's greatest buildings and monuments, including Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde, the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower. Through it all flows the Seine with its constant traffic of barges and tourist boats, its islands, and 23 of the 37 historic bridges of Paris. 

Parisians of all stripes have been drawn to the riverbanks of the Seine since the founding of Paris centuries ago. Over time, however, the scene has changed considerably. In the middle ages, buildings lined the river, built up against the naturally rising banks. Paris was a bustling port and every bridge in the city was covered with houses, much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The Pont Neuf (New Bridge), now the oldest bridge in Paris, was built in 1578 and was the first bridge without construction on it. 

In the mid-1700s, a huge campaign to make Paris cleaner and healthier was begun. Against the wishes of the inhabitants, as can well be imagined, the order came down to demolish all the houses on all the bridges of Paris - each one of which contained up to 60 tall structures. Throughout the years, several had collapsed and city official feared for their structural integrity. It took more than half a century to accomplish this feat with the houses on the St. Michel bridge being the last to fall in the years between 1807 and 1811.

The only structural concerns to today's bridges are the "love locks." Several bridges, including the Pont des Arts and the Pont des Archevêché are weighed down with thousands and thousands of these testaments to everlasting love.  While the bridges are strong enough to support the weight, the railings and fences are not. On the Pont des Arts, whole sections of the railings are collapsing and are blocked off with barriers and red police tape. Still, on this beautiful Sunday, the bridges were lined with lovers searching for a spot where they could attach their lock and declare their love.   (To read Travel Oyster's "Locks of Love in Paris," click here.)

Once the old bridges were cleared of buildings, Paris began building new ones in the 19th century. In 1870 alone, 15 bridges were built in Paris - more than in all the previous centuries. The quays were restructured, creating today's upper and lower quays, and in the 1960s, many miles of the lower quay were turned into an expressway open to vehicle traffic only. Parisians, used to walking the whole length of the river, were restricted to a much shorter portion and - like the homeowners of the bridge houses two centuries  earlier - they were not happy. 

Now in the 21st century, the city is making a huge effort to once again make the Seine accessible to le peuple. And the people were all there when we arrived -- walkers, runners, skaters, cyclists. Others sat on benches with their faces turned up to the sun. There were babies laughing and crying; dogs barking; lovers embracing and lovers arguing; men and women (and dogs) in everything from furs to ultra chic exercise duds. There were artists painting and tourists snapping photos. 

And there we were among them, on a sunny Sunday morning in Paris, hand in hand, taking one of the most beautiful walks in the world.

To see more photos past and present, click here.

A bientôt,

Photo by JR 

Photos unless otherwise noted by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. What a fun post! I love your poetic and humorous writing style. Where's the photo of the dog in the ultra chic exercise duds? Sharon

    1. I didn't get the photo of the dog - he was running too fast.

  2. Geraldine:
    I took the walk with you and JR along the Seine. What a lovely walk seeing all the people enjoying a beautiful day in Paris.

  3. I also enjoyed the accompanying slideshow. Great idea! Jim


Thanks for your comments.