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Pont des Arts and Institut de France
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Pont des Arts at dawn : Click to enlarge picture
Pont des Arts
The most dramatic approach to St-Germain is to cross the river from the Louvre by the elegant footbridge, the Pont des Arts, taking in the classic upstream view of the Île de la Cité, with barges moored at the quai de Conti, and the Tour St-Jacques and Hôtel de Ville breaking the skyline of the Right Bank.

The graceful dome and pediment at the end of the bridge belong to the Collège des Quatre-Nations, seat of the Institut de France. Of the Institut's five academies of arts and sciences, the most famous is the Académie Française, an august body of writers and scholars whose mission is to award literary prizes and safeguard the purity of the French language. Recent creations include the excellent word baladeur for "Walkman", but rearguard actions against Anglo-Saxon terms in science, management and webspeak have been hopelessly ineffective. Becoming an Académicien is the ultimate accolade, and the chosen few are known as Immortels – though ironically, by the time they have accumulated enough prestige to be elected, most are not long for this world. The list of immortels is hardly avant garde: among the forty-strong group at the time of writing, one was a cardinal and just two were women. Public lectures are given by the Academies of Philosophy (Mon 2.45pm), Science (Tues 3pm) and Belles Lettres (Fri 3.30pm); casual visitors are also welcome to look around the courtyard. If you ask politely at the gate you will be given a visitor's pass for the exquisite Bibliothèque Mazarine (Mon–Fri 10am–6pm; free), where scholars of religious history sit in hushed contemplation of some of the 200,000 sixteenth- and seventeenth-century volumes, surrounded by rocaille chandeliers, marble busts and Corinthian columns.

Next door to the Institut, at 11 quai de Conti, is the Hôtel des Monnaies, redesigned as the Mint in the late eighteenth century and now reduced to housing the Musée de la Monnaie (Tues–Fri 11am–5.30pm, Sat & Sun noon–5.30pm; €6). Its dry collection of coins and coin-making tools might, at a pinch, appeal to those deeply nostalgic for the franc, or Balzac lovers curious to see the actual coins that slipped so easily through the fingers of young Rastignac, from gold Louis to the humble sou. To the west of the Institut lies the École des Beaux-Arts, the School of Fine Art, whose students throng the quais on sunny days, sketch pads on knee; it's sometimes open for exhibitions of students' work.

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