When the architects of Pont Alexandre III were appointed, in 1896, the project engineers had already been at work for a year and the basic design of the bridge was decided. The architects’ brief was to embellish and decorate the structure, to make a grand entry to the planned 1900 Exposition and to celebrate Franco-Russian friendship.
With the aid of fourteen different sculptors the bridge was duly embellished with bronze lamp posts, swagged garlands of iron seaweed and shells, classical masks, allegorical statues, mythical beasts….
lions, lizards, dolphins….
and assorted sea creatures, all highlighted in gold.
The engineers’ brief was that the bridge deck must be nearly flat, so as not to obstruct views of Les Invalides from the Champs Elysées, while the arch must be as high as possible to avoid obstruction to river traffic. From a distance the shallow curve of the pale, grey painted structure looks light and remarkable delicate. .
From the quayside below you see the massive strength of the cast-iron structure,
plain, functional but elegant in its simplicity with no gold paint in sight.
Some of the engineers’ decisions must have been made with aesthetics in mind – I doubt if the matching round tops of the stone arches, iron trusses and railing panels are just coincidence – but anchoring the bridge firmly in place must have been their main concern. Apparently (according to Wikipedia) the lateral thrust of the unusually flat arch is retained by an enormous block of concrete buried in the bank at either end – the largest concrete foundation ever constructed at that time.
(Click on any photo for a closer view)