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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Pont de l’Alma in Paris

What is the Pont de l’Alma?

Pont de l’Alma is a road bridge commemorating a Crimean War victory and is the location of Princess Diana’s sudden death.

Pont de l’Alma

Pont de l’Alma History

Pont de l’Alma, the location of Princess Diana’s sudden death, is quite nondescript in comparison to some of Paris’s other bridges, however it does have an interesting history. Commissioned by Napoleon III, the bridge was completed in 1856, to commemorate the Battle of Alma in 1854, where the Ottoman-Franco-British alliance won a decisive victory over the Russian army during the Crimean War.

The original bridge was quite different from the structure you see today. It was made up of three elliptical arches, supported by four cutwater stone piers. Each of the four piers was decorated by a statue with a military theme. The most famous of the four statues is the Zouave, depicting a French light infantryman. Only he remains, of the four original figures, on today’s Pont de l’Alma. You can observe the Zouave at the base of the present-day central pier. The other three statues included a grenadier, a skirmisher and an artilleryman, all of which were removed during the 1970s rebuilding of the bridge.

The Zouave played an important role for local Parisians – it was used to gauge the water levels in the river in times of flooding. Everyone knew that when the water reached the feet of the statue all the footpaths along the embankments would be closed to pedestrians. If the water reached the statue’s thighs, the river was considered unsafe for navigation. In 1910, during the great floods in Paris the water reached all the way to the Zouave’s shoulders.

Unfortunately, by the 1970s the bridge was too narrow for the amount of traffic it was compelled to carry; what’s more, its foundations were discovered to be sinking. It was definitely time to build a new Pont de l’Alma.

The bridge you see today is the result of a complete change of design, a widening of the arches required in order to accommodate the larger boats on the river below. The design was changed to that of a girder construction which now rests on a single mid-river pier. The foundations were fortified and the Zouave once again rests on the single pier.

Prior to 1997, most visitors to Paris would not have taken the trouble to visit the Pont de l’Alma – after all, to the casual observer it seems just a simple road bridge. Everything changed in August 1997 when Diana, Princess of Wales, notoriously lost her life in a terrible accident in the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel, an underpass just north of the bridge. Today, hundreds of tourists come here to see the spot and pay tribute to the well-loved princess.

At the north end of the bridge you will find a statue called Flamme de la Liberté, or ‘Flame of Liberty’, which is an identical copy of the liberty flame on the Statue of Liberty in New York. This statue has been adopted by the public as an unofficial memorial to the princess where people still leave flowers and tributes.

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