Monday, 31 October 2011

Sab's Top Ten Wayward Paris Bridges: No.10 ~ "Pont au Double"

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesTop 10 ~ Bridges

Sab's Top Ten Wayward Paris Bridges
No.10: "Most Oddly Named" ~ Pont au Double - Introduction
by Sab Will,  wannabe offbeat Paris street guru

Forget your most beautiful, forget your most romantic (with one or two notable exceptions), here I offer you an alternative take on the age old problem: how not to end up writing unpalatable, purple prose-tinted, nauseating gush when talking about Paris and its good old Mère Seine.

The approach I’ve taken for my Top Ten Wayward Paris Bridges may not be new, for all I know, and I've certainly seen another list or two of the Top Ten Paris bridges, but the angle taken, bless them, is invariably eulogistic. Homages to hurl to, if you will.

I wanted to try something different, so I took a bunch of Paris bridges with what I considered notable characteristics and ramped them up to the giddy heights of ‘most’.

Whence the list below, where I offer you the most artistic, the most pretentious (go on, guess before looking, I’m sure you’ll get it) and yes, I couldn’t resist, the most romantic bridges in Paris, to name but a few. So go ahead and get out there; maybe I'll cross you on the Seine one of these days.

Sab's Top Ten Wayward Paris Bridges

No.10) "Most Oddly Named" Paris Bridge – Pont au Double

This one has history oozing out of its rivets, and has been the subject of many a Paris quiz question along the lines of: Why is the Pont au Double (Bridge of the Double) so-called? With possible answers including such fanciful fun as: it had a double row of houses on it; it was the first to allow two carriages to pass each other; you had to double back if you met a lady coming in the other direction and wait for her to pass.

In fact it's about rights of passage, in the literal sense. Back in those days, at the beginning of the 17th century, the Ile de la Cité was a more cloistered entity than it is today. Crossing over to it from the 'mainland' necessarily entailed using a bridge, and bridges cost money...

The Pont au Double was originally constructed to transfer patients between the old Hotêl de Dieu hospital on the island, and its annex on the left bank.

Interestingly, neither of these buildings are now in existence. The hospital on the island used to be right next to the river but is now on the other side of the square in front of  Notre Dame and actually does include a hotel these days. On the left bank there used to be a building in front of where the famous English language bookshop Shakespeare and Company now is, if you can picture that, but which was destroyed by Napoleon III's pitbull, I mean chief city planner Haussmann as part of the road-widening schemes of the time.

Which brings us back to the burning question: why Pont au Double? It's simple, but exact accounts differ. The most common reason given is that people had to pay double for the honour of crossing this particular bridge (a two deniers fee instead of the usual one), which actually included part of the hospital itself too, such was the intensive use of space in those days. The extra funds raised may or may not have gone to the construction cost of the bridge itself.

There are other Paris bridges which could vie for the title of 'Most Oddly Named', such as the Pont au Change (just what was exchanged?), the Pont de l'Archevêché (why did the bishops need a bridge?) or the Pont de la Tournelle (if you're thinking 'turning', you'd be... wrong), but space does not allow, alas, and choices had to be made. Pont au Double and quits - that's all for now folks!


* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...