The French-Russian alliance was marked by important artistic and cultural exchanges, diplomatic gifts intended to show the cultural and intellectual community existing between both countries, said Ms. Alice Thomine-Berrada, Curator of the Orsay Museum, Paris, France, in a lecture-cum-presentation at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture, jointly organised with the Institute of Russian Language on November 12, 2011.
In the course of the presentation, entitled “French-Russian Friendship and the Bridge Alexander the Third in Paris”, Ms. Alice Thomine-Berrada highlighted the significance of Bridge Alexander III, as it was completely exceptional for three reasons: the political context of its realization, the technical innovations linked with its construction and its exceptional decoration. It was built on the occasion of the World Fair of 1900, an occasion that the French government intended to make Paris the capital of the world and to show its superiority towards the German empire. France was isolated diplomatically since the defeat of the war of 1870, but at that time its foreign policy has just changed thanks to the establishment of the French-Russian alliance. At the end of the 1880s, the new emperor Alexander III was suspicious towards the German emperors, and thus worked to establish a link between France and Russia.
Big festive events organized to celebrate the French-Russian alliance to persuade French people of the benefits of this alliance and to make them more familiar with the Russian spirit. The artistic exchanges are all the more important as they have to mitigate the differences existing between the Russian empire and the French Republic, two extremely different counties by their political organization, their social order and their religion. In 1893, the official visit of the Russian sailors and Tsar Alexander III gave rise to important festivities. In May, 1896, France was eager to celebrate the crowing of the new Tsar, Nicolas II who had to take the place of his father Alexander III, died suddenly. Numerous gifts were given to the emperor and the empress. But the most important gift was truly the bridge dedicated to the recently-dead father of Tsar, Alexander III, a way for France to recall that Alexander III was politically at the origin of the French-Russian alliance. The idea to offer a bridge had the advantage to illustrate not only the spiritual and artistic community of both countries but also to show the technical and industrial exchanges, which was very important for both countries.
In 1896, the bridge, the widest bridge of Paris, became one of the most important constructions of 1900 World Fair, that is to say at the very time Nicolas II decided to come to Paris, and the bridge also became the most important gift to honour the friendship between France and Russia. The bridge, designed by the famous engineer Jean Resal, is unique by its very modern means of construction and by its very important decoration. The construction of the bridge was indeed a technical challenge, and its decoration made of him the most decorated bridge of Paris. In conclusion, Ms. Alice Thomine-Berrada referred to the bridge on the Neva, which was the present offered in return by Russia to France, built by a French company of metallic construction, and designed by the French engineer Arthur Flachet. Its first stone was laid by the President of the French Republic Felix Faure, one year after that of the bridge Alexander III (1897).