A Bridge for Sighs

Although I am a historian of technology, my favorite bridge in Paris is modern, very modern: la passerelle de Solférino (the Solférino pedestrian bridge, recently renamed the Léopold Sédar Senghor bridge), which opened in 1999.

This superb design by engineer-architect Marc Mimram (born in Paris in 1955) links the Jardin des Tuileries to the Musée d’Orsay. It is fitting that the bridge upon which people walk to and from a former tileworks (now a garden) and a former train station (now a museum) should itself be a superb work of industrial and engineering art. For this bridge Marc Mimram was awarded the coveted architectural award, Equerre d’Argent.

Mimram’s is the third bridge at the site. The first opened in 1861 to celebrate Napoleon III’s 1858 victory over the Austrians at the Battle of Solférino. It was a handsome three-arch cast-iron bridge, which carried vehicles and survived the ravages of the great flood of 1910.

But in a busy commercial river at a relatively narrow spot, the abutments for the bridge sometimes got in the way of heavily laden barges (péniches). After decades of collisions, the bridge had become dangerously weakened (fragilisé).

The photo at left, taken in 1961, shows the about-to-be-demolished original bridge with the “temporary” replacement dominating the foreground.

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