Pont Saint-Michel, originally known as Petit Pont-Neuf

The Pont Saint-Michel links the Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cité to the Place Saint-Michel and its fountain in the Latin Quarter.

The Boulevard du Palais links it to the Pont au Change, it counterpart on the right bank.

Pont Saint-Michel with Ile de la Cité in the background
Pont Saint-Michel with Ile de la Cité in the background

The first Pont Saint-Michel was built between 1379 and 1387 downstream from the Petit Pont.

It was therefore originally known as Petit Pont-Neuf (Small New Bridge) because it was the most recent bridge of the time!

It also supported two rows of houses, a common practice in the Middle Ages.

This first bridge and its houses collapsed under the pressure of huge blocks of ice carried by the Seine during the severe winter of 1407/08.

France was then in full Hundred Years War and the funds failed.

A new bridge was immediately rebuilt, but it was a wooden one!

Sufficient funds were eventually raised in 1444 in order to build a ‘proper’ stone bridge on wooden piles.

The Petit Pont-Neuf became known as Pont Saint-Michel in 1607.

It indeed differentiated then it from the current Pont-Neuf, whose construction had begun on the western tip of the Ile de la Cité.

The bridge took its new name from the Chapelle Saint-Michel-du-Palais.

This 12th century chapel was located in the southern section of the Sainte Chapelle courtyard in the Palace of Justice.

It was eventually pulled down in 1782.

The Pont Saint-Michel was replaced between 1617 and 1623 with a new stone bridge on wooden piles.

It also supported two rows of houses and was one of the largest bridges of Paris, and one of the busiest!

N for Napoleon III

However, a Royal Decree of 1786 stipulated that all houses built on Parisian bridges had to be pulled down.

Pont Saint-Michel with Ile de la Cité in the background - N for Napoleon
N for Napoleon

Their weight indeed placed too much pressure on the bridges’ foundations and threatened the stability of the whole structure.

The houses on the Pont Saint-Michel were not demolished though until 1808!

The architects engineers Paul Martin Gallocher of Lagalisserie and Paul Vaudrey built the current three-arch Pont Saint-Michel in 1857 during the Second Empire.

The 62m long by 30m wide bridge therefore bears the capital letter N, the imperial insignia of Napoleon III.

So does the Pont au Change, which was rebuilt at the same period; these two bridges are in fact quite similar.

Metro: St-Michel on Line 4
Coordinates: Lat 48.853956 – Long 2.344626

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