Paris: Pont Neuf
The Pont Neuf (The New Bridge) travels 232 meters over the widest part of the River Seine, connecting the 1st arrondissement with the 6th arrondissement, anchored over the downstream tip of Île de la Cité. Ironically, given its name, it is the oldest standing bridge on the Seine. Its first stone was laid in 1578 under King Henri III, and after delays caused by the Wars of Religion, it was completed in 1604 and inaugurated in 1607 under Henri IV, whose statue was erected at the center platform in 1614.
Designed by a team of , Pont Neuf is actually composed of two separate spans, one of five arches across the small arm of the river, joining the Left Bank to the Île de la Cité; and another of seven across the large arm, joining the island to the Right Bank. When initially built, the bridge grazed the tip of the island, but since then, the natural sandbar building, aided by stone-faced quais, has extended the island and given us Square de Vert Gallant. Unlike the other old bridges, it was the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses in addition to a thoroughfare. It was also the first bridge with pavements. Bastions that may look ornamentary today were actually added to allow pedestrians to step aside, letting bulky carriage pass. Despite restorations, the structure hasn't been altered in its 400+ years.
Unique to Pont Neuf, the 12 rounded arch cornices each have a keystone carved with mascarons (from the Italian mascarone, meaning mask) or grotesques. There are 384 of the sculptured faces with bizarre features like pointed ears, horns, sea-shell crowns or beards made of grapes. No two are identical. And although most are male, there is one mascaron that seems to portray an African American female. Over time, the mascarons have been damaged and blackened by air pollution, acid rain and wind. In the 1990's, a renovation replaced more than half of them with sculpted copies.