Brazen theft from Parisian bridge baffles city

PARIS Wed Apr 10, 2013 1:32pm EDT

View of the Pont Alexandre III bridge on the Seine River and the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Paris August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

View of the Pont Alexandre III bridge on the Seine River and the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Paris August 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

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PARIS (Reuters) - The gilded Pont Alexandre III bridge in Paris has lost some of its sparkle after thieves made off with the historic monument's bronze plaques in the latest theft from a Parisian landmark.

Despite the watchful eye of its elaborate statues of nymphs and winged horses high above the Seine River, two plaques proclaiming the name of the monument were seized by thieves this month, officials said.

While the bronze used to make the two stolen plaques sells at about 10 euros ($13.06) per kg, the city of Paris declined to comment on the value of the ornamental pieces stolen.

"We have no idea whether they were taken for their metal or by collectors," a town hall spokeswoman said.

She said they would be replaced as soon as possible with identical copies.

"It's not a question of metallic value but of historic value," she said.

French police have struggled with metal theft in the years since the global economic crisis hit, with 5,800 hours of train delays caused in 2010 by the removal of copper from railways.

General metal theft in Paris dropped by about a quarter between 2011 and 2012, a police official said, meaning that whoever removed the plaques from the bridge were part of a die-hard few left targeting public monuments.

Thieves routinely hack bits of steel off the pedestrian Pont des Arts bridge further down the river, city officials say.

Several bronze busts -- including one of composer Bizet -- were looted in 2006 from Pere-Lachaise, the oldest cemetery in Paris and last resting place of luminaries including poet Oscar Wilde and Doors singer Jim Morrison.

Described by the French capital as its ‘most elegant bridge', the ornate Pont Alexandre III was unveiled for the 1900 World Fair in the Belle Époque period that saw the construction of the Eiffel Tower change the Parisian skyline forever.

The name inscribed on the plaques was a nod to contemporary Franco-Russian friendship, cemented by Alexander III's son Tsar Nicolas II's role in laying the bridge's foundation stone.

Historic weight is proving no protection however from thieves looking to pilfer materials or curios.

The skeleton of an elephant once owned by King Louis XIV was attacked in the Paris Natural History Museum in March when a man removed a tusk with a chainsaw and then attempted to flee. The tusk and the man were both found soon after.

"The animal fortunately suffered little in the attack," the Museum said. ($1 = 0.7658 euros)

(Reporting By Tara Oakes, editing by Paul Casciato)

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