In 2016, The Canal Saint-Martin attracted a swarm of curious folk to its banks to witness the unveiling of its treasures hidden away in its waters for 15 years. The onlookers stared at the canal with bated breath as the mysterious waters were vacuumed away by Parisian authorities. What they saw as the sacred treasures of the canal were slowly revealed would shock anyone.
Although Napoleon 1 had given approval for its construction in 1802, work on this Parisian canal spanning 4.5 kilometers was finally completed in 1825. The initial reason for its construction was to provide safe, potable water for the citizens of Paris, although today one look at the muddy waters would prove that the canal is clearly not serving its initial purpose. At the time, Napoleon’s thinking was that easier access to clean water would help alleviate the dysentery and cholera endemic in Paris.
Apart from the Canal Saint-Martin, an additional two canals were constructed with the same goal in mind – improving the supply of clean water, namely the Canal Saint-Denis and the Canal de L’Ourcq. Although the latter was significantly longer and wider than the Canal Saint-Martin, the two were eventually joined via Port-Aux-Perches and Bassin de la Villette. Interestingly enough, Canal de L’Ourcq also merges with the Canal Saint-Martin at the Bassin de La Villette. Of all three canals, perhaps the most known one is the Canal Saint-Martin.
The waters of the Canal Saint-Martin traveled underground from the Basin de L’Arsenal, as well as through the Place de la Bastille, the latter of which is a key location during the French Revolution between 1789-1799 as it was at this very place a prison was allegedly attacked. The canal’s waters also flow very close to the Place de la Republique before joining the other two canals at the Bassin de la Villette.
In the heart of Paris, the canal spans exactly three miles of the 10th arrondissement, a district historically-known for its fashion, although in recent times it has been developing a good reputation for its nightlife and tourist attractions.
Despite being known as “The City of Light”, it seemed that Paris had a lot more to hide in the ominous waters of the Canal Saint-Martin than met the eye. But what shocked viewers wasn’t the vast number of items found lurking deep in the waters, rather the sheer oddity of most of them. When the canal was first drained in 2001, more than 40 tonnes of garbage were removed from the water. What’s more, the canal uncovered several historical artifacts of World War 1, mainly weaponry like bullets and bombshells, although some gold pennies were found. Even more interesting was the discovery of a dated automobile gifted to the murky waters, condemned to its mysterious depths.
Flash-forward to 2016, the second draining of the canal. This time around, there were no monumentally historical discoveries, nor were there any memorabilia of World War 1. No, this time the crowd’s eyes feasted on some artifacts snatched from the jaws of the sinister waters that were, quite frankly, bizarre.
Onlookers gazed as the canal slowly relinquished its mummified treasures. The drainage revealed a number of miscellaneous items; bicycles, mopeds, and wheelie bins, just to name a few. The discovery of a decomposing toilet lightened the mood. Someone obviously thought that it deserved the same fate as what it was meant to do – down to the bottom of the sea you go …
Given that the canal was first drained only to 50cm, workers straddled through the waters to retrieve more sunken treasures. They definitely got more than they had bargained for. The canal was a home not just for the forgotten treasures of men, but also to some creatures dwelling in its waters. A variety of species of fish were removed and relocated to another breeding site after first being correctly identified and weighed. Although the fish had to adjust to a new living space, it was without a doubt a better alternative to their previous home.
On a housing front, following the drainage, residents near the canal had to find funding for housing, which can be as expensive as $9000 just to acquire land given its prime location. One may argue that the hidden, mysterious treasures add to the appeal of the area, thereby augmenting the cost of housing considerably. On a brighter note, at least the removal of several hundred thousand plastic and glass materials from the canal was seen as a huge plus for the environment.
As the workers continued to sift through the mucky remains of the canal, they got a close look at what lay on the canal’s ominous bed. A traffic cone had to be removed by one of the workers – clearly, someone wanted to mend the road rules to their favor. The real catch was the sunken shopping trolley entrenched in the depths of the canal. Or maybe it was the office-chair, leading some to conjure possible situations that caused the chair to end up in the canal, not exactly the place you’d expect to ever find out.
The draining of the Canal Saint-Martin had such a positive impact on its aesthetic appeal, really making people appreciate its beauty. What was once an unattractive, grotesque site became a source of inspiration to several artists who often decorate the walls of the canal with stunning graffiti and artwork.
Thanks to its beauty, the canal has attracted both Parisians and foreigners alike to feast their eyes on a calming, picturesque scene. It’s safe to say that the face lift really did wonders to the canal.
The Canal and Its History
In 1802, Napoleon 1 had a vision to better the lives of some 550,000 people residing in Paris. Faced with the widespread diseases plaguing the city, Napoleon decided to invest in improving the water supply. He hoped that this improvement would mitigate the spreading of the diseases.
The More The Merrier
In just under two decades, two additional canals were constructed across Paris. In total, the three canals span a little over 80 miles. The Canal Saint-Martin, being the most well-known one, flows into the Canal De L’Ourcq, the latter of which feeds into the River Seine.
I Will Follow Him
The waters of the canal start at Bassin de L’Arsenal, flow past La Bastille, which is the location of an old prison attacked during the French Revolution. The canal continues flowing into Place de la République following which into the Bassin de la Villette, its final destination. At this last point, its waters feed the Canal de L’Ourcq.
The Passage Connecting The World
Spanning only three miles, the Canal Saint-Martin was financed on wine and trade. The canal also served as a passageway for boats and ships carrying building supplies and food for the Parisians.
The Canal Saint-Martin Today
In recent times with no signs of obvious warfare on the rise, the canal has become a spot for many people, foreigners and locals alike, to chill. You can often find young, affluent Parisians crowding the canal’s banks and frequenting nearby cafes, whereas visitors typically strive for optimum photo spots, such as on the canal’s bridges.
More Than Just A Canal
Although Paris is more known to foreigners for being home to the Eiffel Tower, to the Parisians the canal is equally as famous. It has been a source of constant creative inspiration to artists, including Alfred Sisley, an impressionist painter. Several filmmakers have shot scenes at this very canal.
From Paradise To Sewer
Over the last couple hundred years, the canal has turned into an unofficial dumping site for some. As a result, Parisian authorities strive to drain the canal every 10 to 15 years, getting rid of the junk that wound up in the mysterious waters.
Who’s Afraid of the Canal Saint-Martin?
In 2001, authorities discovered quite a number of weird items lurking in the canal’s waters. Washing machines, a car, and artifacts of World War 1 were all retrieved from the canal after it was drained.
Blame it On The Alcohol – Or Maybe The Youth?
The dumping of garbage in the canal has been attributed by some to the district’s booming nightlife, some persons believing that the constant flux of young people in the area leads to an increase in garbage disposal in the canal. In 2016, it was time to put this theory to the test.
A Mission To Be Completed
The drainage project began at the beginning of the year. Although the project was costing the city a pretty penny (more than $10 million) and was expected to take at least three months to complete, authorities felt that it had to be done.
Swimming With The Fishes
And so they began. The canal was drained till there were just 20 inches of water remaining. Considering that there were live guests lurking in the waters, the team of workers had to transport them to new living grounds. Over the next few days, the workers worked tirelessly catching every species of fish found in the waters to relocate them to another body of water.
Hidden Treasures, Secret Mysteries
After this was done, the rest of the water was drained from the canal. Treasures buried deep in the belly of the canal were now exposed to the light of day. People gathered to see what the canal had gobbled up this time.
The Garbage Dump
It wasn’t a surprise to see the canal was a keeper of an assortment of plastic and glass bottles. The other items found, however, did leave most with more questions than answers.
The New Spot To Park Your Bike
It would seem that some Parisians enjoy disposing of their bikes in the Canal Saint-Martin. For some odd reason, a number of bikes belonging to Vélib, a bicycling sharing system, found their way to the murky waters. One witness remarked to The Guardian that the trove of bikes was “like some kind of weird treasure.” Bicycles weren’t the only strange items found at the bottom of the canal.
Two’s a Company
Another member of the cycling family, two motorcycles were found. By what twist of fate did two motorcycles end up in the canal? We may never know, but we do hope that the owners had insurance. It doesn’t stop there …
All Aboard, Ship Ahoy!
It’s like the canal spat out everything including the kitchen sink. Well, maybe not the kitchen sink, but chairs, shopping carts, and suitcases aren’t exactly the typical orders of the day. If you find the suitcases odd, seeing a toilet in the canal would throw you off your rockers. Trying to find a possible situation in which a toilet ends up in a canal is not a walk in the park.
The Moving Dumpster
What’s certain, the canal became a huge dumpsite for many Parisians. Bernard, part of the crowd, stated “It’s filthy. The last time I don’t remember seeing so much rubbish in it.” Who’s the root of the problem? Is it the youth?
Wake-Up Call To Care For The Environment
However, like with all things, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the canal. Authorities took the opportunity now that the canal exposed a number of environmental issues in Paris to reinforce the need to be environmentally conscious. Deputy mayor Celia Blaulel suggested that if a communal effort is made to put an end to polluting the canal’s waters, “we might be able to swim in the canal in a few years.”