From one isle to another
Among the many bygone islands of Paris, l’Île Maquerelle was once located along the great bend of the Seine, on either side of the Pont d’Iéna. The isle was rebaptised after Louis XIV decided to use it to house forty swans that he’d imported from Denmark. The Sun King was so fond of his graceful waterfowl that he created the position of ‘gardes-cygnes’: swan guards to protect the birds and make sure that boats steered clear of the isle.
A century and a half later, it was connected to the Left Bank, creating a sort of protuberance into the river that was very visible from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge. But l’Île des Cygnes was destined to reappear: in 1825, a few dozen metres downstream, a new artificial island was created on the Seine between the towns of Grenelle and Passy (which became part of Paris in 1860), named ‘l’Île aux Cygnes’ in memory of its predecessor.
A promenade prized by city dwellers and tourists alike
Designed as a promenade, this thin strip of earth - 850 by 11 metres –attracts natives from neighbouring quarters who appreciate the shade, the fragrances of the many kinds of trees, and the sports equipment (bicycles, climbing walls, etc.) freely available under the Pont de Grenelle since 2012.
As for the tourists, they always seem amazed to discover that the famed Statue of Liberty is here in Paris, albeit as a reproduction that is a quarter of the size of the one in New York. Having one’s picture taken in front of Auguste Bartholdi’s chef d’oeuvre is like a preview of one’s next journey. This witness to Franco-American friendship was inaugurated in 1889, the same year as the Eiffel Tower. Paris also holds smaller copies of the celebrated statue at the Musée d’Orsay and in front of the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Since 1986 - the centennial of New York’s Lady Liberty - a replica of the flame of her torch of freedom is also visible near the Pont de l’Alma, Right Bank. This is the flame that has become a pilgrimage site for all admirers of Lady Diana, who perished in the tunnel in 1997.
An interesting tour of architecture and urban planning
On both sides of the Île aux Cygnes, architecture aficionados can round out their stroll with a glimpse of the many interesting buildings located nearby.
On the side of the 15th arrondissement, Le Front de Seine, with its varied towers, is an example of city planning where vast pavements are used to keep pedestrians and traffic apart, as in La Défense and Olympiades. First developed during the post-WWII boom, the district got a new lease of life in 2013 with the opening of the very modern Beaugrenelle shopping complex.
On the side of the 16th, the slopes of the Chaillot Hill present architecture that is typical of the 20th century, with Hector Guimard’s Art Nouveau buildings (and notably the fanciful Castel Béranger at 14 Rue La Fontaine) as well as Art Déco and Mouvement Moderne buildings along Rue La Fontaine and Rue Raynouard just behind the Maison de la Radio, which was built in 1960.