ALONG SEINE RIVER

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Thanks to the development of the quays, it is now possible to walk along the Seine river almost continuously between Austerlitz and quai de Javel. The event of Paris Plage is organised during the summer months by the City Hall of Paris, offering several beaches, the most popular one being near Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). That you can enjoy or – avoid - depending on your mood!

Whatsoever, it is always very nice to walk along the river in all seasons. All along the banks, the many fabulous views are enhanced by the natural sky light, always beautiful. The light over the river is either softened or filtered by grey weather or stunning under a blue sky. The city will look like a Magritte's painting when the sky is blue with chubby white clouds. When it is cloudy, even stormy, the city will look even more impressive. Paris looks even better with a storm light than below a blue sky as Sylvain Tesson is writing in his last book about Cathedral Notre-Dame. (profits of the book are dedicated to the Fondation du Patrimoine on top of the pleasure of reading).

The river, today one of the most beautiful avenues of Paris, was especially vital in the past, as shown by the coat of arms of the city. It represents a sailing ship with the motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur (she is tossed by the waves,  but does not sink). This alliance made with the river is very old, as proved by the discovery in Bercy of pirogues dating to the 4th millennium BC. These can be seen at the Carnavalet museum.
The Pillar of the Boatmen (pilier des Nautes) testifies as well how much powerful was the guild of the boatmen who were also merchants travelling upstream and downstream Lutecia. This votive monument was discovered  below Notre-Dame cathedral and is now displayed in  the Cluny museum. These boatmen played a major role in the development of Lutetia, chief settlement of the Parisii, which will definitively become Paris in the 5th century.

Atget's photos show how much active were the riverbanks with ships, floating cranes, tugboats and also small trades like mattress carders and dog shearers. Riverbanks so much different with the ones today, where many barges are now equipped to drink, eat and dance. Equipped for the pleasure of homo festivus, this new species invented by the French essayist Philippe Muray who criticized our modern world. Whatever, walking along the Seine river from Pont Mirabeau to Pont Marie will give the opportunity to admire many architectural masterpieces in a superb set of the Seine...

  • Mattress Carders
    Seine banks
    Atget – 1900
    (Musée Carnavalet)

  • Dog shearers
    Atget
    (BnF)

Pont Mirabeau

As a local, I would like to start from Pont Mirabeau, made famous by a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire. He wrote it in 1912 after the end of his love affair with Marie Laurencin.
The poet lived not far in the 16th arrondissement, a district very different from the one that we know today according to the description in his book A Stroller along Both Banks (Le Flâneur des deux rives). The district of Auteuil was then quite picturesque, presumably the same one as the writer Balzac might have known when he was living rue Raynouard. He depicts not only an old district but also a melancholy and sad one linked to heartbreak and the war. After he took a shell splinter in the head during the war, he underwent a trepanning in Auteuil in May 1916 at the clinic Villa Molière.
(Born in that same clinic that no longer exists, I get goose bumps ... whilst my gaze wanders on a lithograph of Marie Laurencin aside my desk ...).

Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine
And all our loves
Why does it make so plain
That any joy must always follow pain

Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here

Our hands intertwined let’s stay face to face
While far below
The bridge of our arms strays
The languid wave of each endless gaze

Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here

Our love drifts away like these waters flow
Love drifts away
And our lives are so slow
With Hope more violent than we could know

Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here.

The days and weeks pass in a ceaseless train
But no past time
Or past love comes again
Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine

Let the night come the hour sound clear
The days all pass I’m still here.

The Mirabeau Bridge - Guillaume Apollinaire (Alcools)

The bridge is also an allegory of Paris and the river represented by four statues: the City of Paris, Navigation, Commerce and Abundance.

Let’s now continue on port de Javel towards pont de Grenelle.   

Port de Javel / Quai André Citroën/ Ile aux Cygnes

Parc and quai André Citroën are named after the former car factory where Tractions, 2CVs and DS were manufactured between 1919 and 1976.
Prior to the Citroën factory, in the same neighborhood, there was a chemical factory producing bleach (eau de Javel) since 1777.
Besides these names, nothing today can remind us of the high industrial activity in this district. Difficult to imagine that just after pont de Grenelle, there was the Jean-François Cail plant producing railway locomotives and other equipment. The plant was later replaced in 1909 by the Vel' d'Hiv', an indoor velodrome, of sinister memory with the mass arrest of Jews in July 1942. It was demolished in 1959.

Today, the towers of Front de Seine have replaced the industrial plants, the houses and the dilapidated homes shared by the Citroën foreign workers. I could get an idea of the atmosphere at that time, with a crime fiction from Leo Malet, a master of crime fiction in post war Paris. (Unfortunately, Les Eaux Troubles de Javel, the tenth book of the New Mysteries of Paris has not been translated in English).
Who says that it is not by reading detective stories that you will learn something? This is by  reading this book, that I discovered the origin of the name Citroën. Roelof Jacob, a merchant of lemons in Holland was André Citroën's grandfather. The Napoleonic code civil had to be applied in Holland when Napoleon took over this country in 1810. Roelof, as an askenazi jew, had to choose a name. He chose quite naturally Citroen which means lemon in dutch ...

We are now on Pont de Grenelle. When we arrive at the level of the small version of the Statue of Liberty, of course turned towards the United States, let's go down to the island and walk along Allée des Cygnes (Alley of Swans). This is an artificial island, a former breakwater to protect the port of Grenelle. It is nice and quiet: you can sit on a bench enjoying the view of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, the ducks among the water lilies ...and the many trees along the pathway.

At the end of the island, we now reach the pont de Bir-Hakeim, full with tourists and bimbos being photographed at the foot of the pillars. The aesthetic of the bridge is quite captivating, even more during the night when it is illuminated by its gracious lamps and by the ray of light let by the aerial metro. Let's now walk on the right bank along the Trocadero gardens. Between Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower, the pont d'Iena ornate with four huge warriors is packed with tourists and street vendors.

We now arrive at the level of pont de l'Alma with its famous zouave, now watchman and reference when the Seine is flooded. The Zouave, more commonly known as the Zouzou, is left alone since the removal of the three other statues when the bridge underwent a complete reconstruction. The skirmisher is in Vincennes, the grenadier in Dijon and the artilleryman at la Fère.

We now arrive at the landing stage of the Bateaux Mouches.

Bateaux-Mouches

When Atget photographed this landing stage of bateau mouche in 1900, these water buses were used as simple means of transport. They were already in operation in the city of Lyon since 1862 where they were manufactured. Their name Mouche has nothing to do with the insect (the fly); their name just comes from the district of La Mouche in the city of Lyon were they were manufactured. They were put in service in Paris in 1867 during the Exhibition. Thirty boats were specifically ordered for the exhibition. They were routed to Paris via the Saone river, the Burgundy canal, and the Yonne and Seine rivers. After the Exhibition, they were maintained and used as simple means of transport.

The one who was able to fly high is Jean Bruel! He had the fabulous idea to buy one of the last former bateaux mouches after the world war II. He registered the trademark Bateaux-Mouches and invented the concept of Seine boat-tours via the most beautiful avenue in Paris...

  • Chaillot - Quai de Paris Landing stages of bateau mouche
    Atget – 1898/1900
    (BnF)

Pont Alexandre III

The 1867 Exhibition let us indirectly the Bateaux-Mouches, the 1889 Exhibition let us the symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. The 1900 Exhibition let splendid Art Nouveau buildings, such as: the Grand Palais, easily recognisable by its large glass and metal roof. The Petit Palais, an other architecture marvel which houses the beautiful City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts (Admission to the permanent collection is free! And the Café is located in a charming garden). And in the same axis of these buildings, the pont Alexandre III, in honour of Nicolas II’s father.

This bridge is one of my favorite. It is a work of infinite delicacy, down to the finest detail: the grace of the movement outlined by the statues, the smooth line of the street lamps marking  the bridge curvature, the glass reeds seemingly caught by the Russian winter freeze. An impressive airy work of art leading us to forget the technical achievement of this single arch bridge.
The extreme pressure exerted by the low single arch metal bridge required construction of massive  stone abutments. Today a night club can be found in the right bank abutment, as well a restaurant with a terrace in the left bank abutment.

Let’s cross the bridge and let’s walk along quai d’Orsay towards pont de la Concorde.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old one, I want to claim for a movement of cutting away the love locks. To me they rather sound symbols of ultra possessive love, on top of degrading the bridges. The ones found at pont Alexandre III are especially heart breaking to me!

  • Port des Invalides
    Pont Alexandre III - Left bank
    Atget – 1913
    (Ville de Paris – BHVP)

Port des Invalides

Atget’s photos show active banks and quays. Today if some barges can still be seen in the middle of boats crowded with tourists, the quays are now destined for leisure and restaurant terraces. Only some rusted winch leftover are reminding us the former activity of Parisian ports.

We are now walking towards pont de la Concorde, built during the French Revolution partially with stones of the Bastille prison.

  • Floating crane - Port des Invalides
    towards pont de la Concorde
    Atget - 1913
    (MuséeCarnavalet)

Pont de Solférino - Piscine Deligny

Boat wash and public bath facilities could also be seen along the active ports.
The famous Deligny floating swimming pool could be seen along quai Anatole France until it rapidly sank into the river in 1993. It started with a public bath facility in 1785, where later in 1801 one could take a swimming lesson provided by the instructor Deligny. The floating swimming pool was built in the 19th century over twelve barges. These barges were formerly used to bring back Napoleon's ashes in 1840 from Rouen where they arrived from Sainte-Hélène.
During the 20th century, the swimming pool equipped with a solarium and a bar restaurant was quite trendy. It was also quite a source of scandal when the first sunbath topless could be seen right in front of the National Assembly.
In 1993, after been hit by a barge, the swimming pool sank to the bottom of the river in less than one hour.

  • Bath Pont de la Concorde
    Port de Solférino
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

We are now at the foot of the Orsay Museum, installed in the former station of Paris-Orleans railway. After it was threatened with destruction, we can be glad that finally an official decision saved this 1900 beautiful building, a perfect blend of metal structure and cut stone. The central nave within the high glass ceiling, where platforms once stood, takes us today on a different journey, one of the European art from mid 19th to beginning of 20th.

Quai Voltaire - Booksellers

We now arrive quai Voltaire, quite a symbol of literature. Not only because many writers lived there, starting with Voltaire. This is also where we start to see the bouquinistes‘ dark green bookstalls. These second-hand booksellers form a long and picturesque line between quai Voltaire and quai de la Tournelle on the left bank and between Pont-Neuf and Pont Marie on the right bank.
The book lovers will especially find history books, editions of classical texts and nice editions like la Pléiade on the left bank. On the other bank, they will find comic books near la Mégisserie, books on films on quai de Gesvre and thrillers around Hôtel de Ville.

  • Booksellers – Quai Voltaire
    Atget - 1898
    (BnF)

Quai de Conti - Institute of France

We are coming near pont des Arts between the Louvre and the Institute of France.  

Former building of Collège des Quatre Nations founded by Mazarin, the palais de l'Institut de France was designed by the architect Le Vau. The Mazarin library, located in the left wing of the building, is still open to the public since 1643 according to the will of the cardinal. Mazarin bequeathed to King Louis XIV a part of his huge fortune for the foundation of a college to take sixty young nobles from France's new provinces of Artois, Alsace, Pignerol in Piedmont and Roussillon. The building is quite classical, a semi-circular facade with two lateral pavilions and in the centre, the famous gilded dome of what was originally the chapel where Mazarin is buried.

When the Institute of France was created in 1795, the chapel became the hall where the sessions were held. From the five academies that make up the Institute of France, the oldest and most famous is the French Academy created by Richelieu. These academies initially in the Louvre were moved later to the institute when Napoleon decided that the Louvre should became a museum. This is from this time that the academicians are wearing their official uniform, embroidered with motifs of olive branches, giving the name of green clothing (habit vert).

Very little has changed since Atget took the photo. The statues are now gone; the statue of the Republic formerly in front of the pavilion on the right is now located quai de Malaquais up rue de Seine. The lions formerly lying on the stairs are now located in a garden of Boulogne Billancourt.

  • Institute
    Atget - 1907

Quai de Conti - Pont des Arts

The words of Matthieu Chedid’s song come to mind :

On the Pont des Arts,
My heart is shaky,
Just below the surface,
The air is so good,

This air so fresh,
I take it in,
Our reflections perched,
Upon this bridge,

We love like that, the Seine and I

Though I cannot be sure that the air is so good and so fresh, I definitively love the place! One's heart can be really shaky in front of the beautiful view on all sides. My favorite is the one over Pont-Neuf embracing the Ile de la Cité. The first Pont des Arts metal footbridge as shown on Atget's photo was almost identically rebuilt in 1984 after it collapsed in 1979. Love can be heavy... More than 40 tons of love locks fastened to Pont des Arts were cut off in 2015! Love is now transparent with the new padlock-proof glass panels installed on the bridge...

The last time I walked there, I saw a fisherman, like the one on Atget's photo; but he was just acting... The spot is very popular with the filmmakers and the quay was closed to the public due to a film shooting.

  • Quai de Conti
    Banks of the Seine
    Atget – 1899/1900
    (BnF)

Pont-Neuf

I always enjoy looking at the stone heads, all different, along the parapet of the oldest bridge in Paris: heads of satyrs, fauns and divinities ... appearing like heads of visitors from the past, with grinning and smirking faces at our new restless world.

There were already four bridges connecting Ile de la Cité with the two banks when around 1550 it was envisaged to connect the Louvre district with the faubourg Saint-Germain. Though king Henri III laid the first stone in 1578, the bridge was not completed until 1606  due to the French wars of religion and to the lack of treasury. This new bridge, not only the largest and the longest of its time was also the first bridge to be houseless and to get the first pavements in Paris.

Soon, the bridge attracted all kinds of people like merchants, jugglers, pickpockets, people selling universal panaceas and other ointments, tooth pullers ... It also attracted peddlers selling books and pamphlets as the former bouquinistes.

As a perfect counterpoint with the photo taken by Atget, an artist is still standing at the foot of the bridge, drawing in situ the beautiful view.

  • The Pont Neuf
    (near the Monnaie lock - demolished in 1923)
    Port de Conti
    Atget – 1911
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Pont-Neuf - Quai des Grands Augustins

Located in a beautiful mansion at 51, quai des Grands Augustins, the famous restaurant Lapérouse has been a legendary house for a long time. A distinguished place for upper class people. If the prices are sky high, the ceilings are low: this gave the French expression se taper la cloche (to strike one's bell) which means to have a nice diner ... Men wearing a top hat were frequently banging their head (cloche means head in French slang) against the low door's frame.
In the late 19th century, this was also a preferred place for the illegitimate affairs ... this could be done with the utmost discretion in the private salons. There are still these small private dining rooms upstairs, where the waiters knock at the door before entering, as other than food could be consumed ...The scratched-on mirrors keep also the memory of the women testing the authenticity of the diamonds received from their lovers ...

  • Pont-Neuf
    Quai des Grands Augustins
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Pont-Neuf - Vert Galant

Crossed over by the Pont Neuf bridge, the Ile de la Cité ends into the Vert Galant Garden. Vert Galant (Green Gallant – old man still chasing women) was the nickname of King Henri IV, which statue is facing the place Dauphine.

This small garden was the favorite meeting place of the hippies in the 70s where they were sharing their mystical orientation, ideas of freedom, experimentation in music and in artificial paradises.   

It is nowadays a quiet and romantic place. Last time, I saw a young poet, at the far end of the island. Sitting on a branch of a weeping willow to get from his green haven a good source of artistic inspiration.

Let’s come back on the bridge. We are now facing place Dauphine, a triangle of town houses built between quai de l’Horloge and  quai des Orfèvres.

  • Vert-Galant banks -
    South side towards pont des Arts
    Atget - 1910
    (Musée Carnavalet)

  • Vert Galant banks
    South side towards Pont-Neuf
    Atget – 1910
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Pont-Neuf - Place Dauphine

Initially this square initiated by King Henri IV was a triangle of thirty two identical town houses. The sense of architectural identity and singularity given by the houses built in stone and brick was later altered by the uncontrolled addition of new floors. The two pavilions that are facing the Pont Neuf can provide an idea of this unity, reminding Place des Vosges, also initiated by King Henri IV.

The Place Dauphine almost disappeared with Haussmann, hence completing the first destruction of the houses along rue Harlay. Replaced today by trees, the rear townhouses were demolished as the architect of the  new Law Court built in 1854 wanted to clear the space in front of the Court.

This is not far from the right pavilion that Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burnt. While he was dying, he cried and cursed the Pope and several generations of French kings:

From this face on fire, the frightening voice declared: “Pope Clement! Chevalier Guillaume! King Philip! Before the year is out, I call you to appear before the tribunal of God to receive your just punishment! Accursed! Accursed! All accursed till the thirteenth generation of your race!” – Maurice Druon – The Accursed Kings (Les Rois Maudits).

Let rather set aside this gloomy episode in the French history and let's go towards the right pavilion, where there is a nice shop recommended to me by my friend Kim. Still managed by the family Jeanne Danjou Rousselet, jeweler since 1920, the shop offers very nice creations all done from vintage jewelry features at an affordable price. A very good address, 100% made in France!

Now let's take quai de l'Horloge along the courthouse.

  • Pont Neuf - Place Dauphine
    Atget – 1925
    (Wikimedia Commons – Metropolitan Museum

Quai de la Corse - Flower market

We are now walking along the Court of Cassation, still there, while the rest of the Law Court was moved to the Batignolles district in the new Renzo Piano building.

Then, we arrive at the level of the Conciergerie with its three turrets, topped by conical roofs.
The first one with a crenellated walkway is the oldest. It was given the name of Bonbec tower. Rather than evoking a treat (bonbec in French is a candy), it sounds more like a bad tricky dark sense of humour; The name of Bon bec (gift of gab) was given because in this tower, people were tortured until they talked and confessed.
The next twin towers date from the time of King Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel): the Silver tower housed the royal treasury and the Ceasar tower was built on Roman foundations. Three Gothic rooms still remain from the medieval palace where lived the Capetian kings. The palace became a prison when King Charles V rather took residence at the Hôtel Saint-Pol.
The Conciergerie, nowadays a Museum, tells about the prisoners during the French Revolution, especially Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre who lived there their last days before their beheading.

The last square tower, the Clock Tower (la Tour de l'Horloge) has still the oldest clock in Paris, completely restored in 2011. At the top of the tower the bell is not the original one, melted down during the French Revolution. During the night of August 23 to 24, 1572 it tolled together with the bell of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois as the signal to begin the massacre of Huguenots (known as the Saint Bartholomew's day).

The Flower market located place Louis Lépine is also along the Seine on quai de la Corse. Each time I go there I feel more and more saddened when I see the small green stalls designed by Eiffel becoming more and more run down. What is the future of this still charming flower market?   

  • Flower market
    Atget – 1898/1900
    (BnF)

The current state of the flower market takes me back to my childhood with a nostalgic feeling. That question and feeling find a particular resonance when arriving in front of the building at 1, quai des Fleurs where lived the philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch. Much of his work is about the fleeting time, the irreversible time of history, the relationships to the past and the necessity to fully live the present time. The oscillation of the time takes on all its meaning when we come closer to the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Quai de la Tournelle

I was very hesitant to pass by quai de la Tournelle from where we can have a view on the devastated cathedral. On the other side, my approach for these strolls in Paris is all about past and present Paris and the fleeting time, hence the name of my page, hora fugit ... An approach to compare present places with the ones photographed more than one hundred years ago by Eugène Atget. Worried the old Paris could disappear, he pursued the goal to document the Old Paris he loved so much since he was worried it could disappear.
To see Notre Dame de Paris so many times, to admire its high spire, I was led to believe it eternal, resilient enough to overcome human and natural ills. It was such a comforting view.

And then, on April 15th, 2019, the attic known as the “forest” collapsed. The attic was made of oak beams adjusted together without using neither rivet nor peg. It was purely an architecture wonder resulting from the carpenters expertise of the Middle Ages. Such a technical achievement to support the weight of the lead roof, more than two hundred tons. With the timber roof on fire, the spire tumbled into the inferno. What could have said Vladimir Jankelevitch if he would have seen this event mostly inconceivable, almost a disgrace ? Would he say  the same words he wrote quite premonitory in Somewhere in the Unfinished?   (Not translated in English – Following is my own version)

The glory cathedral dominates the whole city with its spire soaring to the sky. And the divine presence is nestled within the heart of the shrine. A thousand flames of the candles are now in darkness, a thousand voices of the choirs have been silenced. The splendors which once illuminated the shrine are now keeping the shrine in the shadows of the shrine. The ascetical Christian silence finds its true mystical sense. When we enter now upon this mystery and this darkness, we lower our voice as we lower our voice in the funeral wake.   

  • Notre-Dame viewed from quai de la Tournelle
    Atget – 1923
    (Wikimedia Commons – Met Museum)

Pont Marie

We are now crossing pont de la Tournelle and arriving in Ile Saint-Louis. It is always a pleasure strolling here, such an elegant place. Then, we take rue des Deux-Ponts (Two Bridges Street), as the street is connecting the two bridges: pont de la Tournelle and pont Marie. The spot between quais d'Anjou and de Bourbon is always a little bit chilly.

Our stroll ends on quai de l’Hôtel de Ville transformed into some seaside holiday resort during the summer with the palm trees and the deck-chairs of Paris Plage.   

  • Pont Marie
    View from quai de Bourbon
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet

Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville

If we cannot yet swim in the Seine, in summer we can still get the feeling in la Villette basin, the largest artificial lake in Paris. During July and August, the banks of the Seine are transformed into recreation areas since 2002. The first one was created here on quai de l’Hôtel de Ville. It was followed by others on the left bank to finally form the riverside Parc Rives de Seine, 2.3 kilometers long between Bastille and the Eiffel Tower.  

The concept of baths along the Seine river is not that new. The barber Poitevin installed a floating hot bath in 1761, close to pont Royal in front of the Tuileries. It consisted of two levels of cabins with a view over the river. Other floating baths were later accommodated and replaced by the Bains Vigier in 1800. Atget photographed one of them, close to Pont Marie. The writer Emile Zola also refers to them in his book the Masterpiece (l'Oeuvre). In this book, I have also found a nice description of the ends of the day along the river, which are also my favorite time to stroll along the river.

Christine always made him stop just before they reached the Pont Royal, near the fine trees beside Vigier’s swimming baths; and when they turned round to shake hands once more in the golden sunset now flushing into crimson, they looked back and, on the horizon, espied the Isle Saint Louis, whence they had come, the indistinct distance of the city upon which night was already descending from the slate-hued eastern sky.
Ah! what splendid sunsets they beheld during those weekly strolls ... As they proceeded, the ardent blaze of the western sky turned to purple on their left, above the dark line of houses, and the orb of day seemed to wait for them, falling gradually lower, slowly rolling towards the distant roofs when once they had passed the Pont Notre-Dame in front of the widening stream.

  • Vigier Baths
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

Copyright Year 2019 - Martine Combes - author text and photos of today Paris