Truthfully, I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’m so enjoying reading How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean, that I had to share it with you! I’m not always great with history books. My eyes go blurry pretty quickly amongst a catalog of dates and names. But I’m really having fun reading about the development of modern Paris, then looking up old and current images to compare! (I even made Pinterest board for them).
If you’re interested, here’s some neat tidbits about the Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”) that I enjoyed:
Completed in 1606, the bridge was the beginning of many changes that altered how Parisians interacted with their city. The most obvious difference between the Pont Neuf and other large bridges in Paris was the absence of homes and shops built on the bridge. Whereas is was previously common to finance a bridge by selling lots on it, King Henri IV instead paid for construction via a wine tax. Looking at the two paintings below, you can see how radically different the experience of crossing the Pont Neuf would have been:
The Pont Neuf was also the first bridge to cross the Seine in a single span, and at 75 feet wide, wider than any city street in Paris at the time. The raised sidewalks for pedestrians were another new feature for the city–combined with the unobstructed view of the river, they turned the bridge into a communal social space.
Parisian from all classes went to the bridge to see and be seen, buy goods and be entertained–this all in addition to the cart and foot traffic from those simply trying to cross the bridge, resulting in some pretty gnarly traffic jams:
Public bathing became popular in the sweltering summer on the banks of the Seine near the bridge…so much so that by the early 1700s the city had to intervene and forbid men from sunbathing naked after an incident in which nude men stormed the ladies changing rooms! (apparently none of the painters of the time saw fit to record that incident for posterity).