• If it took more than ten years for the project to materialize, the construction work of the bridge actually lasted three years, from 1818 to 1821.

  • Wanted by Napoleon I, the stone bridge was finally inaugurated under Louis XVIII.

  • Although its existence was once threatened, the work is now protected and will soon be the subject of a vast campaign of work to renovate and consolidate it.

Why seventeen arches?

Pierre with a “p” or a “P”?

Is it true that there was a toll on the bridge?

Opened to the public on May 1, 1822, and listed as a Historic Monument in 2002, the stone bridge in Bordeaux celebrates its bicentenary this year.

The opportunity for the city of Bordeaux and Bordeaux Métropole to organize a whole series of events around the monument from Sunday.

And for

20 Minutes

to dive into the history of the work carried out on the orders of Napoleon I, and to come back to the mysteries and urban legends that surround the very first bridge in Bordeaux.

Why did it take until the 1820s to deliver a first bridge in Bordeaux?

"The Garonne was tamed for the first time in Bordeaux in 1821, where

a bridge of 17 arches was imposed on it", is written on the six commemorative medals, struck on the occasion of the ceremony of laying the last stone of the bridge, August 25, 1821. It was not until the second half of the 18th century that people considered building a bridge to connect the two banks of Bordeaux.

It will therefore take about 50 years to come to fruition.

“There are two factors to take into account to understand the difficulty of building a bridge at that time, explains to

20 Minutes

Sylvain Schoonbaert, project manager for the protected area of ​​Bordeaux, and author of part of the exhibition on the stone bridge: the technical difficulty, because the Garonne at that time was still more than 500 meters wide, and the issue of the shutdown of the port's economic activity.

Before the construction of the bridge, large tonnage boats could be brought into the channel of the Garonne from Bacalan to Saint-Jean station, so Bordeaux merchants were initially very reluctant to the idea that 'we come to cross the Garonne by a bridge.

Today, the bridge is still the limit between river traffic upstream and maritime traffic downstream.


From wood to stone to iron

However, the need to connect the two shores is becoming pressing.

The first bridge project dates back to 1771, it is a stone bridge presented by the chief engineer of the roads and bridges Le Ragoix de Saint-André.

It provided for nineteen arches over a length of 733 meters.

But it will be necessary to wait until 1807, and a decree of Napoleon prescribing to establish in Bordeaux a stone bridge for the passage of his troops on the way to the war of Spain, so that a work is finally carried out.

To satisfy the Emperor in a hurry, a framework bridge was first proposed.

“It's a wooden bridge with a central lifting span, to allow large boats to pass on one side or the other,” explains Sylvain Schoonbaert.

The foundation piles were started in 1810, then the engineer Claude Deschamps arrived and took charge of the project.

Little by little, he succeeded in convincing people that a permanent bridge could be made, and that there was no need for a lift span.

So he has the idea of ​​a stone bridge, but only for the structure, the filling of the bridge being made of bricks.

It also reduces the number of range points, since we were initially on a bridge with twenty arches, and it brings it back to seventeen.

What is interesting is that he modifies his project during construction,

so that the first piers are closer together than those built towards the end, and no arch is the same width.


In the meantime, the idea of ​​a metal bridge was even put forward, but abandoned in 1818, due to the cost.

A toll on the bridge

While work on the bridge was bogged down due to lack of funding, Pierre Balguerie-Stuttenberg, one of the most famous Bordeaux merchants and shipowners of the 19th century, managed, with the help of other wealthy Bordeaux merchants, to create the "Compagnie du pont de Bordeaux", on April 22, 1818, in order to complete the stone bridge.

In exchange, a concession to operate the bridge was granted for 99 years with a toll.

After the final opening to the public on May 1, 1822, pedestrians, adults or children, beasts of burden, all kinds of carts, carriages and rolling carts, stagecoaches, sledges, hand wheelbarrows were taxed according to their crew, even animals for everyday consumption (calves, pigs, sheep, goats, etc.) paid per head.

The stone bridge toll was finally abolished in 1863.

Seventeen arches for the seventeen letters of Napoleon Bonaparte?

In Bordeaux, certain urban legends are tenacious, such as the one about the meaning of the seventeen arches of the stone bridge.

It is said that one should have engraved on the medallions above each of the arches, the seventeen letters of Napoleon Bonaparte.

“Except that there are only sixteen medallions, underlines Sylvain Schoonbaert.

Then, Napoleon had been in Saint Helena for a long time when it was decided that there would be seventeen arches at the bridge, and no longer twenty.

Even if the bridge was once called Pont Napoléon, all of this is just a legend.

“On the other hand, the laying of the last stone having taken place in 1821, the bridge was baptized at that time “Louis-XVIII”, and it would seem that the two intertwined “L” of the King were engraved for a time on these medallions, to celebrate the return of the monarchy.

“It was then nicknamed the “bridge of Bordeaux”, especially by people outside the city, the people of Bordeaux quickly baptizing it “stone bridge”, very few people giving a capital “P” to Pierre, in reference to Pierre Balguerie-Stuttenberg.

Here again, we would be dealing with an urban legend…

Tunnels, cable-stayed bridge… Improbable projects to replace it

Due to the ever increasing intensity of traffic, the widening of the bridge became a real necessity, so much so that the decision was taken in 1941 to demolish it to replace it.

Other projects had already been proposed in the past: in 1877, Gustave Guibert presented the municipality with a tunnel project which did not attract attention.


in 1885, the engineer and architect Gaston Archambeaud suggested replacing

the bridge with an under-river tunnel.

In 1912, the project for a central lifting span made its comeback, a project signed by the architect Pierre Ferret.

The first lift bridge in Bordeaux will finally be inaugurated in 2013 with the Chaban-Delmas bridge.

In 1945, the municipal architect and urban planner of the city, Jacques Boistel d'Welles, surprisingly foreshadowed the Aquitaine bridge, built in 1967, by imagining a cable-stayed bridge.

Finally, in 1949, the State and the city of Bordeaux decided to keep the work and to build another bridge: it will be the Saint-Jean bridge, inaugurated late on April 4, 1965. In July 2018, Alain Juppé recorded the permanent closure of the stone bridge to cars.

An exhibition on the stone bridge, in the open air, will be installed at the heads of the bridge (Place Bir-Hakeim on the left bank and Place Stalingrad on the right bank) from May 1.


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A works campaign in 2024

A complete renovation of the stone bridge - consolidation of the piers, waterproofing, cleaning and replacement of worn stones and bricks - should begin in 2024 and last two years.

“The bridge is not in a bad state, assures Sylvain Schoonbaert, but it has been sinking into the Garonne since its construction.

Since 1910, it has thus sunk about a meter.

It also oscillates, from downstream to upstream, since it is subject to the influence of the tide, the Garonne not being a calm river.

The bridge has already been the subject of work to reinforce its piles and its rockfill, which the next work campaign plans to do, as well as a complete recovery of the entire deck of the bridge which is also experiencing watertightness problems. .

All of this should make it possible to stabilize the structure, “probably for a few decades.


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