le bois des chambres

The “rustic” bridge

published at 20/10/2022

The picturesque or “rustic” bridge crossing the ravine that separates the ornamental gardens from the “Goualoup” garden is the grounds’ most prominent manmade feature.

In his initial plans for the grounds’ layout, Henri Duchêne envisaged a very different sort of bridge – a single-piece suspension bridge over the roadway and ravine. The princely couple finally rejected the idea and commissioned the architect to build the bridge we have today (closed to visitors).

In a letter written to Prince de Broglie on 30 December 1884, Henri Duchêne mentioned that the bridge’s design had been the subject of numerous conversations between them, and “that between 25,000 and 30,000 gold francs had always been the sum envisaged for creation of this item. In this difficult and may I say unprecedented work, I am aware of having your interests foremost in mind. The metal part was treated industrially and the head caster included in the outlay for a month. The assistant metalworkers were local and the rustic cement coating was added on a by-the-day basis, at the price of the series without having to take account of the profit that a specialist entrepreneur would have made. It is true that the abutments were very expensive, but as regards foundations and on land such as Chaumont’s, prudence is required.

It is a remarkable piece of work, as much for its design (two footbridges at different levels, one over the road and the other crossing the ravine, linked by a spiral staircase set in a false tree trunk made of cement and covered with real ivy) as for the way it was constructed – a very modern technique for the period. It is made of reinforced cement rather than concrete (which had not yet been invented), given a rustic makeover to provide the illusion of tree trunks and stripped branches on armouring made up of some 2,700 kg of iron. The bridge is a real curiosity, in the true spirit of 19th-century garden follies with its trompe l’oeil false wood decoration, and calls to mind the Buttes-Chaumont Bridge in Paris.