The Pont Neuf, French for the "New Bridge," is the oldest standing bridge across the river Seine in Paris. Its name, which distinguished it from the old bridges that were lined on both sides with houses, simply stuck.
Standing by the western point of the Île de la Cité, the island in the middle of the river that was the heart of medieval Paris, it connects the left bank, the Rive Gauche of Paris with the Rive Droite, the right bank.
The total length of the bridge is 278 m (912 feet), its width 28 m (approximately 92 feet). It is actually composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité, another of seven joining the island to the right bank. Old engraved maps of Paris show how, when the bridge was built, it just grazed the downstream tip of the Île de la Cité; since then, the natural sandbar building of a mid-river island, aided by stone-faced embankments called quais, has extended the island, which is planted as the Parc Vert Gallant, in honour of Henri IV, the "Green Gallant" King.
The decision to build the bridge was made by King Henri III, who laid its first stone in 1578. After a long delay, due in part to the Wars of Religion, it was completed under the reign of Henri IV, who inaugurated it in 1607. Pont Neuf is constructed as a series of many short arch bridges, as most bridges of that time were built, following Roman precedents. Unlike the old bridges, it was the first stone bridge in Paris not to support houses in addition to a thoroughfare, and was also fitted with pavements protecting pedestrians from mud and horses; pedestrians could also step aside into its bastions to let a bulky carriage pass. The bridge had heavy traffic from the beginning; it was for a long time the widest bridge in Paris. The structure has never been altered, although the bridge has undergone repair and renovation work.
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