The Bièvre river was running in Paris as two parallel flows - from parc Kellermann to Austerlitz
From the book " sur les traces de la Bièvre Parisienne " - Ed Parigramme
Today, I am going to take you for a stroll, rather a ghost one as we are going to walk along a small river now all buried under the pavement when it enters Paris: its name – la Bièvre. When Atget took pictures
of it at the beginning of the last century, it was still partially visible in the southern part of Paris, in the 13th district, between Poterne des Peupliers and rue des Gobelins before it was completely buried and integrated with the sewer network
The river begins at Guyancourt in the forest of Versailles, flows through the cities of Jouy en Josas, Bièvres, then becomes an underground river in Antony, flows through Fresnes, Arceuil, Gentilly and finally enters in Paris where it joins the Seine river. It is thought that
its name, Bièvre, comes from the fact that in the past many beavers (beber in Celtic) were living in the river. However, this is not attested and it is also thought that the name would come from its brown color due to the sludge (boue or bourbe in French) it contains.
The course of the river mapped against the today Paris was starting in the south under boulevard Kellermann, then was following a large meander around a hill, Butte aux Cailles. In this area, called la Glacière (the
ice-house), there were flood-meadows, where the water was easily transforming into ice during the winter. Then, the ice was cut and kept in the stone quarries to be later sold during the summer. Leaving the Butte aux Cailles , the river was running along the Gobelins Manufactory, settled on its banks. All polluted by the dyeing activity of the manufacture and
also by many of the tanneries settled along the river, it was finally running along the Jardin des Plantes to end into the Seine between the Austerlitz bridge and the Charles de Gaulle bridge.
During the 12th century, the Saint-Victor Abbey was permitted to divert the Bievre river in order to power their mills and water the gardens of the monastery. This diversion called the Canal des Victorins was starting from the National Museum of
Natural History, then flowing up to Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet church and was finally running along the today rue de Bièvre to end into Seine river at the level of Cathedral Notre-Dame.
Our walk in the streets will
follow its route even though it is today integrated into the sewer network, from parc Kellermann up to Jardin des Plantes, and if you wish, we will follow Canal des Victorins and end our stroll in rue de Bièvre.
French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans was very well describing the misfortune of the overexploited and polluted river because of the tanneries, the leather-dressing factories and dye works
until it ends in the sewer. His descriptions meet wonderfully the pictures taken by Atget.
Furthermore, when we will walk between la Butte aux Cailles and boulevard Auguste Blanqui, we will have the opportunity to honor
Eugène Atget when we will go down the stairs of the street named after the photographer.
For this stroll, it is better to do it during the summer months in order to enjoy the many gardens and to visit château
de la Reine Blanche.
- We will start from metro station Maison Blanche
- Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe, jardin du Monument aux Mères Françaises, parc
Kellermann, rue de la Poterne des Peupliers
- Rue des Peupliers, rue du Moulin aux Prés, rue de Tolbiac
- Rue Vergniaud, rue Daviel (Petite Alsace and Villa Daviel)
- Butte aux Cailles, jardin Brassaï, rue Eugène
- Rue Croulebarbe, square René Le Gall, rue Berbier du Mets
- Rue des Gobelins – Château de la Reine Blanche
- Rue Monge – rue Censier – rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire
You may stop
at Jardin des Plantes, or you may continue following Canal des Victorins through Jussieu up to boulevard Saint-Germain and end rue de Bièvre.