Under the Bridge: a Picture Dictionary of Grotesque Human Expressions

(Image: Tangopaso, public domain)

The grimacing parade of 381 grotesque stone heads under the oldest Parisian bridge is hardly something you see every day.

The peculiar creatures living under the Pont Neuf wear all possible human expressions (from violence and joviality to mischief and salaciousness) and allegedly represent satyrs, sylvans and other river gods with characteristic charm.

(Images: ZohaStel, cc-sa-3.0; Wallg (left); Jean-Claude FORNEROD; cc-nc-nd-3.0)

Called “mascarons”, the sculptures’ name derives from the architectural term “mascaron” – an ornamental face, whose function was to scare away evil spirits. Widely appreciated in architecture between the 15th and the 19th century, they can be found in many European cities today.

Yet historians keep questioning the original background of these particular ones.

(Image: Germain Pilon, cc-sa-3.0)

A caricature of the king’s mistresses according to some, others liken this multitude of devilish faces to the men that Henri XIV cuckolded. Still others believe that this was a physiognomic example of the features of common people back in the day the bridge was built.

Of all that, this much is true – the gallery of hideous masks is a genuine “theatre of grimaces” and a nice spectacle to observe should you have some time to spare under the bridge.

Explore more of Paris – wander the Street of the Fishing Cat (Narrowest Street in Paris) and travel the Abandoned Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (Belt Railway).