Monday, 6 June 2011

Back in time by the Bièvre

To get something of an idea of how Paris may have looked before the Celts or the Romans, you need only visit the Yvelines near Versailles and explore the valley of the Bièvre.

Just 15 kilometres from the city centre, these primitive landscapes seem to be from a different land altogether, but this is a waterway that continues to steadily flow towards Paris. One hundred years ago, it still managed to slide its way through the city walls and on headfirst into the Seine, but by the time it arrived at that point it was a pestilent soup rather than a pristine stream.

In and around Paris it was a river that was put to work, primarily in the tanning industry. After centuries of abuse, it had become a dead channel, clogged with blood and dyes. At the beginning of the 20th century, the city authorities decided that they had had enough, covered over the stream and directed it away from the Seine and into the city's sewerage system.

Walking alongside the Bièvre in these timeless locations it is hard to imagine that this is one of the only rivers in the world that has no natural discharge. Is this a picture of how it once was along its entire length, up to what became Paris at its meeting point with the Seine?

Beyond the boundaries of Paris it has continued to thrive, and a project was recently announced to open up more stretches to visitors. Certain groups still militate for an uncovering of the river along its entire length, but in reality Paris has today developed away from one of its natural sources.

It is impossible to wind back time, but thankfully it is sometimes still possible to visit the past.


Suze said...

'It is impossible to wind back time, but thankfully it is sometimes still possible to visit the past.'

This essentially describes why I favor collectibles.

FotoMarg said...

The first photo looks very peaceful. What a pity that this stretch of the river is all that one can see now.

Peter (the other) said...

Living, perhaps, 25 meters from the old bièv's bed in the 5th (Romans gave it the name, I think), I used to hope that the city would go ahead with parts of the, now long forming, plan that included a river walkway out my back window. But, this year's particularly strong horde of mosquitos (maybe because my buildings gardner has outdid himself this year?) has dampened my enthusiasm. All these past years I laboured under the illusion that the little buggers just didn't rise to a 4th floor... (I's eaten' alive I tell ya'! Aliiiiiive!).

c'est Jeff ici said...

I've always assumed that rue de Bievre, the next street over from rue Maitre Albert where I live when I'm in Paris covered over the river. I'm curious about Peter's comment. Is the river still visible somewhere in this neighborhood?

Adam said...

Jeff - When it arrived in Paris, the Bievre branched off in several different directions. It is generally accepted that its main entry point into the Seine was by the Pont d'Austerlitz, but the name of the street further down by Notre Dame is evidence that it also entered the bigger river there too.

The river hasn't been visible in Paris since the 1920s, and most of its old beds were covered over and built on a long time ago. However, whether or not there is still some underground dampness around attracting mosquitos is something you'll have to ask Peter!

Peter (the other) said...

The path changed a bit, even before it was "disappeared" a century ago. At one point some monks monkeyed around and steered it over through the city wall at Cardinal Lemoine (on which the "real" Peter posted about once) so as to provide water to pray by. But there are various places where its bed are marked, near me (I'm on Buffon) on rue Godfrey St. Hillaire it has two arms marked for what once was an island, just south of Buffon/Censier. Here, you can see the two beds, the top arm in front of the school (of noisy lil' b*stards). The curious little twist of Censier up towards Monge is also a result of the river bed. I have read (although not examined for verity, that there is still some outlet to the Seine at Port d'Austerlitz. Here is a 2004 feasibility study of the restoration. I do not think my particular problem, this year, is from the ghost of da' bieve, but rather heavy watering both in the Jardin des Plantes across the street, the Jardin's test plantings in its rue Buffon biology labs, which one of my window's overlooks, and my own building's cour which is truly a floral miracle this year (which must require water).

Being in the watery goodness of Budapest at the moment, I say let's make some baths! :-)

Peter (the other) said...

Oh, here is da' real Peter's post which deals with the river.

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