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The Elegance of the Alexander III Bridge

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Alexander III Bridge, Paris

Responding to your request to comment on the Alexander III Bridge in Paris, I would say that it gives an idea of the elegance of the French genius from times past. The tops of those beautiful lamps give me the impression of perfume bottles. Their shapes remind me of receptacles for precious perfumes that could be placed, if they were much smaller, on a lady's vanity table. They are so well made, so delicate that they do not seem to have been made to be exposed to the bad weather. In the ensemble we find the French note of sweetness, of that suavity proper to the French spirit.

Columns of the Alexander III bridge
We see the entrance to the bridge, which can only be described as monumental. It is composed of two columns, and atop each one are gold-plated mythological scenes. This one, at right, displays a kind of hero holding a sword in one hand while the other restrains a winged horse ready to fly. The gestures, although quite theatrical, are elegant.

Everything in this bridge gives me the impression of something ethereal, of something very noble. An aristocratic note is visibly present in the construction of this bridge. There is also a spiritual note, in the sense of the predominance of the spirit over matter, because the spirit impregnates the matter and molds it, so that when an observer looks at this, he is invited to think about things that are spiritual, the states of spirit of men, for example.

We can also say that there is something sacral here in the predominance of the artistic over the functional. When we see those lamps, we have the impression that they were not made primarily for utility. At first sight, we think more about their beauty than their practical function of illumination, and we have the impression they were placed there principally to adorn the bridge. We can say that this note of adornment is more present here than in the Rialto Bridge we analyzed recently. It is a work of art from the belle époque, a historical epoch that unfolded in France after the French Revolution under the Republican regime, but within the framework of a monarchical Europe and a still profoundly aristocratic French society.

There are wisps of the Ancien Régime present in this bridge, but the sensation of the enjoyment of life is intense in it. The Paris of that time exuded its pride to be the capital of all the pleasures of the world, and this bridge was constructed to give pleasure to the eyes, to divert men, to give him the will to live and to live on this earth. All this seems to me present in it - in such a way that this would be, in my view, the de-sacralizing point of the bridge.

The Alexander III Bridge no longer speaks of the Middle Ages. If the Rialto Bridge still conserves a vague impression of the Middle Ages, here we are so far removed from it that we cannot even consider it. If the Rialto has an aroma of the Middle Ages, here there is a scent of the Ancien Régime, which is, as you know, a perfume much less dense in the counter-revolutionary spirit than that of the Middle Ages.

Viaduto do Cha, downtown Sao Paulo
Now I invite you to compare this bridge with the Viaduto do Chá [the central viaduct in downtown São Paulo]. The Viaduto do Chá is a cement board, dull and flat. It has no beautiful balustrades on either side but just some grilles that seem to be there only to prevent some crazy person from jumping off it. What it brings to mind is its functional purpose foremost. Here and there we find some columns – as heavy and drab as possible.

We see that no comparison is even possible. We could say the Viaduct is a construction made by barbarians in comparison with the Alexander III Bridge. When we compare the Alexander III to the Rialto, we note the former is richer, much more expensive than the latter. But the art and grace of the Rialto are superior to the Alexander III bridge. There is no artist who would dare to say that the Rialto has less value than this bridge. On the contrary, the Rialto has more artistic value than the Alexander III.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Translated from the transcript of a tape by TIA desk
Posted July 6, 2011

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