Not every day do authorities in France will have the time to spearhead a project of draining a canal. But when they do, there’s a lot of discoveries they can find. Why would they drain an old canal if these places are still used today as a waterway or maybe a picture spot for tourists?
Canal Saint-Martin is unlike any other canals in the world. This old canal which connects the Seine River and the Canal de l’Ourcq is much talked about and once gained the attention of the media for its amazing story.
There was one cloudy date in Paris, the French capital when people gathered around Canal Saint-Martin, their smartphone cameras taking photos and videos, some even live updating their social media, to watch the cleaning and the draining of this old canal. Draining a canal anywhere in the world is not very usual. Authorities would prioritize other projects on top of these, but it isn’t even the oddity of draining Canal Saint-Martin that the Parisians and the French people were watching. They wanted to see what happens and what to find under the waterway.
As the waters receded, what was seen in the faces of both the officials and the citizens witnessing this breakthrough were pure awe and astonishment.
Canal Saint-Martin, Then And Now
Canals are usually part of old cities and are very abundant tourist destinations in Europe. Mind you, there are investors who arrange tie-ups with the government only to fund preservation projects for old cities and their features, such as these waterways. Paris is a city of wonder, but also a city filled with mystery. Beyond its towers, restaurants, museums, and shopping district is an old city with hidden secrets, especially those of building alleyways and canals. One of these is Canal Saint-Martin.
Canal Saint-Martin is a 4.6-kilometer-long canal located in Paris, France connecting nearby canals and rivers. It is now 200 years old, and around half of its length, the way that runs between Place de la Bastille and Rue du Faubourg, is covered in the mid-1800s to pave way for wider boulevards and public spaces.
Today, Canal Saint-Martin is a very famous tourist attraction for both local and international visitors. Cruises are offered on the canal, as these tourists ride passenger boats, passing under cast-iron footbridges, preserved from the past, and visiting restaurants and bars along the open areas around the canal. Students also stay in these areas to lounge or have a meaningful conversation.
The French people value this canal very much because of the story behind its construction. It was a project that stood after one of the most tumultuous phases in the history of France, the French Revolution. After the go-signal from Napoleon Bonaparte I, Paris prefect Gaspard de Chabrol proposed building Canal Saint-Martin primarily to provide clean drinking water for the population of Paris then, which was at around 550,000. It was also mainly because the authorities then believed they can address the worsening cases of cholera and dysentery plaguing the city during those years. Moreover, it was also a waterway that brought and transported goods to the Parisians, and these included food and other supplies. Construction began in the year 1825 with funds mostly coming from wine taxes.
Nearby structures, Canal Saint-Denis, Canal de l’Ourcq, Bassin de la Villette, and Port-Aux-Perches, would create the entrance to this magnificent and interesting city structure. Compared to the more popular Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower, Canal Saint-Martin isn’t among the most widely visited but those who know about it would even take time to include this in their itinerary.
Though the cleaning project for Canal Saint-Martin is being done every 10 to 15 years, this activity has become a tradition for the locals to gather around, generations after generations, and discuss its significance.
“I was luckily enough to witness the cleaning a few years ago, in 2016. I remember walking along the canal, thinking how funny it looked with no water, when suddenly, I saw a bike lodged into the ground,” writes blogger Molli on DiscoverWalks.com. “I did some digging, and found out that each time the canal is drained, interesting objects are found.”
Do people simply throw these items in the canal, intentionally?
The first draining of Canal Saint-Martin happened in 2001, and during this year, a total of 40 tons of wastes were taken out from the water. Wait, 40 tons of waste? A fully grown polar bear already weighs 1 ton, so these are equivalent to 40 polar bears? What did they unearth?
First, they found items from World War I — bullets, bombshells, and gold coins. Coins in canals are usual since people always have this tradition of “wishing wells,” and maybe bullets too if this particular area became a battleground during the wars. Alright, continuing further.
Over $10 million is spent each time the project is done and once again, the recent draining happened last January 7th. Each time the canal is drained, people watching and those in the field are surprised by the new items they can find. More than living creatures like fishes, it seems there is an antique shop built beneath, giving the Bermuda Triangle a threat.
Here’s where it becomes interesting.
They found bicycles, wheelie bins, mopeds, a toilet, and even bigger items like motorcycles. For a witness who shared reactions to The Guardian, it was like an unusual “submarine treasure.” Were the bicycles throw into the canal? How did a toilet get in there? Bizarrely fun, it’s like uncovering the secrets of the Atlantis, only that this one’s a little quirky.
They also found shopping bags, traffic cones, and glass bottles. The glass bottles and traffic cones are normal, these may have been thrown from the nearby bars and the traffic cones may have been carried by the wind.
But to find an office chair and a shopping trolley, who could leave them right underneath the canal? Evidences of supernatural intervention aren’t very strong and few to no articles are found focusing on this angle.
Canal Saint-Marin: More Details
No swimming in the canal, this is the regulation today but authorities are working together to one day, allow the Parisians and tourists to be able to swim. According to deputy mayor Celia Blauel, it is possible within a few years.
For the people of Paris, the canal will remain one of their treasured possessions. More details may unfold, but the life around Canal-Saint Martin shall continue, the restaurants around will move forward hosting diners, along with the nightlife scene, and with the movement of the tame waters with the wind, Parisian life will continue to make wonders.