"Boat trip on Canal St. Martin." Paris Travelogue by pfsmalo
Paris Travel Guide: 22,167 reviews and 53,887 photos
Even after having lived here and visited frequently over the years, and even walked many kilometres along its banks I had never done the boat trip from the Villette basin down to Bastille/Arsenal. The trip starts in the Villette basin just 200 metres from La Rotonde. This is one of the last gates where people had to pay a levy on merchandise they were bringing in to the city. Built in the years just before the Revolution it was an essential and imposing part of the "Fermier Generaux" wall. Strangely enough 3 years after the inception it became unused as the levies were abolished in 1791. It escaped being demolished in 1860 when the Baron Haussmann was up to his dirty deeds and most of the smaller villes were incorporated into Paris and the wall was knocked down. It has now been turned into a bar/brasserie with concerts during the summer that brings back a bit of gaiety to an area that really needs it.
From the quayside the boat moves off in a n-e direction to take in the recently renovated wharehouses and the old Crimée bridge. This bridge dating from 1885 is a direct lift bridge as opposed to the swing type or cantilever bridges that are used elsewhere.
This is the last one of its type in Paris and marks the entry into the Canal de l'Ourcq. This part of the canal was originally destined in 1802 to bring much needed water into Paris from the rivers Ourcq and Beuvronne, then through the Canal St. Martin. The beginnings were financed by a tax on alcohools (already!!!) and work began. The first fountain to use this water was the "Fontaine des Innocents" today by the Halles shopping mall in 1809, although not through the Canal St. Martin as of yet. Having decided to make the canals wider to accept navigation, the first boat down the Canal de l'Ourcq made its trip in 1813. After the fall of the Empire in 1815 it was noticed that the fall of the canals was too much and the idea of using Da Vinci's brainwave of using locks became necessary. Four double-locks were installed to defeat the 26 metres drop. Navigation was finally opened all the way down to the water gates at the Arsenal in 1825.
Since 30 odd years this whole area, once one of the most sordid in all Paris has been renovated and rehabilitate, perhaps to the detriment of one of the last pockets of real Parisians, but it has created a "green" valley where now one can cycle or walk with pleasure.
Situated in the northern part of the canal is the "Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie" including the Geode which is easily seen from the canal. Inaugurated by President Mitterand in 1986 it is one of the most interesting museums in Paris.( Metros Porte de la Villette and Porte de Pantin are the closest).
After turning round in front of the peripherique ring road and the old Pantin flour mills we make our way back down the canal past the Crimée bridge and the renovated wharehouses. These were burnt down during the "Commune of 1871" and only recently lifted to the standard of the rest of the area. Back past the starting point and the Rotonde, the boat enters into the first of the four four double locks, the Jaurès lockand make our way into the Canal St. Martin. This part of the canal actually runs on a platform or bridge supported by 600 pillars as the ground underneath was deemed unfit to pour the cement directly onto it . So theoretically you can actually walk beneath the canal....Then in a very short while the boat moves on to the Death lock. So-called because under here a merovingian cemetery was discovered furing the digging of the canal and also not far from here could be seen the infamous Manfaucon gibbet opposite the St. Louis hospital.
The boat now moves on to the most wellknown part of the canal, through the bend and after a glimpse at the St. Louis hospital and of course the "Hotel du Nord" we are into the third lock, the one that is world famous after featuring in the Marcel Carné film " Hotel du Nord" with Arletty and Louis Jouvet, called the "Ecluse des Ricollets" after the convent of the same name close by. The hotel itself was almost demolished for renovation, but after much action and anger from residents, the facade was made a historic monument and the renovation only went on behind the front wall. Many scenes of the film show the canal, the bridge and the lock itself but most of the real shooting with the stars was done in the studio with the bridge being re-created there. This is also where Arletty created her famous phrase "Atmosphere, atmosphere, es-ce que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphere, moi ?"
After passing through the Temple double lock we arrive at an interesting and eerie part of the cruise. This is where the canal goes underground for over a kilometre, but no worries for claustrophobics, there is plenty of light provided by air and light vents. There are some bats though and a couple of ceiling beams are very low. If you're not dressed for Arctic weather it would be recommended to go downstairs, even for better photo ops. Baron Haussmann was responsible for covering the major part of the canal and was lengthened further in 1906. The oldest part is as you pass beneath the July column on the place de la Bastille, constructed in 1835.
On the photo below I have zoomed during the taking to get the weird effect and the prism in the water.
Back into the sunlight again on the short stretch of water between the Bastille and the Seine where there are now some 230 boats. The waterway here was part of the Bastille moat and as such I was told that part of the wall over on the Arsenal side (west) is from the Bastille itself. So that is the end of a very enjoyable 2 1/2 hours on the water.
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