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January 14, 2016


A Clean-Up For The Canal Saint-Martin

by soundlandscapes

ONE OF THE MORE unusual sights in Paris at the moment is the recently drained Canal Saint-Martin.

Canal Saint-Martin

The double lock at the upstream end of the Canal Saint-Martin

Opened in 1825, the Canal Saint-Martin is a 4.5 km stretch of water connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the Seine.

From the Bassin de la Villette at its upstream end to its junction with the Seine at Port de l’Arsenal downstream, the canal comprises nine locks and two swing bridges and from one end to the other it falls some 25 metres.

For the final 2 km at its downstream end, from Rue du Faubourg du Temple to Port de l’Arsenal, the canal runs underground passing under Boulevard Richard Lenoir and Place de la Bastille.

Canal Saint-Martin

The double lock looking downstream to Place de Stalingrad

On Monday, 4th January, work began to drain and clean the canal and to do some renovation work to some of the locks.

To get things underway a dam was installed at the upstream end of the canal. Once the dam was in place the lock gates along the canal were opened and some 90,000 cubic metres of water drained from the canal into the Seine.

Canal Saint-Martin

The dam separating the Canal Saint-Martin from the Bassin de la Villette

The canal has a large fish population and so some 10 cm of water was left in the bottom of the canal initially so the fish that didn’t manage to escape with the flow of water could be rounded up in nets and transferred to the Seine.

Once a waterway supplying Paris with fresh water, grain and other commodities to support a growing population, the canal trade eventually dwindled and the canal came close to extinction.

Today, with its romantic footbridges and mysterious vaulted tunnels, the tree-lined Canal Saint-Martin conveys passenger boats and pleasure craft and has become one of the key tourist spots in Paris.

In contrast to its romantic image though, the canal takes on a different aspect once the water has been drained.

Canal Saint-Martin

The canal was last drained and cleaned in 2001 and during that operation 18 tonnes of fish were recovered and 40 tonnes of rubbish gathered. The haul of garbage and occasional treasure could be even more this time around.

Canal Saint-Martin

The other day, I walked along the Canal Saint-Martin from the Bassin de la Villette to Rue du Faubourg du Temple where the canal enters the 2 km tunnel before it reaches the Seine. It is this above-ground stretch of the canal that is being cleaned.

Canal Saint-Martin - République

Looking downstream to the tunnel entrance at Rue du Faubourg du Temple

Anxious to capture the cleaning operation in sound and since I couldn’t get close to the canal from either the Quai de Valmy on one side or the Quai de Jemmapes on the other, I chose to record from the top of the footbridge crossing the canal close to Rue du Faubourg du Temple.

The recording doesn’t last for long and it isn’t perfect – but it is historic since these sounds are only heard every ten to fifteen years!

Sweeping bottles in the Canal Saint-Martin:

Canal Saint-Martin - République

All the detritus from the canal is being transferred by road to barges on the Canal St-Denis that will take it on for disposal.

At a cost of €9.5 million, the cleaning and renovation work will take three months and the Canal Saint-Martin is due to open for business again on 4th April.

Canal Saint-Martin - République

Looking upstream from Rue du Faubourg du Temple

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Jan 14 2016

    So often I feel a little twinge of sadness when I first read the title or opening paragraphs of a new post — “Oh, I wish I could be there,” I say to myself. But invariable, by the time I get to the end, I feel as if I actually *had* been there. It’s because of posts like this one that your blog has become my absolute favorite connection to my favorite city, Des. Thank you.

    • Jan 14 2016

      Thank you, Heather. As always, I much appreciate your comments.
      It’s a shame you can’t be here to see the empty Canal Saint-Martin, it’s a most unusual but absolutely fascinating sight.
      In the post I forgot to mention that amongst the Velib bikes, motos, bottles and other detritus, a handgun was found shortly after the canal was drained. Who knows what story lies behind that!
      I had intended to be at the double lock at the upstream end of the canal (the Bassin de la Villette end) to record the sounds as the canal was being drained but unfortunately my sonic journalist’s instinct let me down and I arrived after the event. I shall though try to be there when the canal is being refilled.

      • hmunro
        Jan 15 2016

        A handgun, you say? That sounds positively … American! (Though of course in a U.S. version of the Canal St. Martin they would probably find two dozen. Sigh.)

        It’s a pity you missed the sounds of the canal being emptied — it would have been nice to have the “bookends” — but I’ll look forward to hearing the refilling sounds if you decide to publish them. And again, Des, thank you for the wonderful work you do.

  2. Jan 16 2016

    Oh wow, so much stuff underwater in Canal St. Martin! I used to live nearby and always pass by the canal at Republique whenever I’m back in Paris. Great to see a different side of it 😉

    • Jan 19 2016

      Thanks for stopping by Angelina.
      I have an update for you …
      At the latest count, 100 Velib bicycles have been found in the canal!

      • Jan 20 2016

        100 Velib bicycles! At least now the city knows what happened to them 😉

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