4-10 November 1999

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Canal Saint-Martin:
Port de L'Arsenal to Parc de la Villette

Basin de la Villette
13, Quai de la Loire
75109 PARIS

Like the other Paris canals (St. Denis and Ourcq), the 4.5 km Saint-Martin Canal was built by order of Napoleon I between 1806 and 1825. It is supplied by the Ourcq canal (actually the canalized Ourcq River which has its source in the Department of Aisne, 109km from Paris).

The traffic is not heavy; the canal is mainly used during the floods of the Seine River and when the barges -- the gauge of which were set by Freycinet (Minister of Transportation under Napoleon III) -- can no longer flow under the bridges.

The Saint-Martin is extended by the St. Denis canal to flow into the Seine around Saint-Denis-Gennevilliers or to reach the great mills of Pantin (wheat, flour) or Bondy, Pavillons-sous-Bois through the industrial area of the Ourcq canal for high tonnage barges.

After Pavillons-sous-Bois, the Saint-Martin becomes the smallest navigable canal in France, with an average depth of one meter.

  1. Port de l'Arsenal
  2. The new Paris marina, built in the old moat of the Fort of La Bastille (left side of the square) and surrounded with 9000 square meters of landscaped areas with, among others, a kindergarten with the reproduction of an old galleon and a fort for children.

    This marina is named after the old arsenal located nearby, now a library. The marina can accommodate 230 boats with a maximum 25-meter length.

  3. Voute du Temple et de la Bastilla
  4. An underground vault, its longest section was built by Haussman and extended in 1906 (concrete part). It follows the layout of Boulevard Ferry and Boulevard Richard Lenoir. This magnificent stone vault is 2km long; it used to be lit by 37 lanterns which gave it day-like light. The lanterns were located in the middle of the boulevard and were designed for the canal ventilation. They used to show the bargemen the way when the barges were neither lighted nor self-propelled.

    The part located under the July Column is the oldest section (1835). The Bastille column was erected to commemorate the victims of the three glorious days of July (July 27-29, 1830). The revolution of July ended with the abdication of Charles X. The July Column is 52m high and weighs 170 tons. It was erected by architects Alavoine and Duc on the Elephant Fountain Square which Napoleon I loved so much and where Victor Hugo had Gavroche live in his novel Les Miserables.

    The column is topped with a bronze genious of liberty, which is an allegory of "Liberty crushing iron and flying into light." The column trunk is hollow; inside the foot is the crypt where rest the 504 victims of July 1830, the victims of the 1848 February revolution, as well as a mummy brought back from Egypt by Bonaparte.

  5. Ecluse du Temple (double lock)
  6. Named after the old Paris priory of the Order of Templars who were founded in 1128 during a crusade. As reward for services rendered -- their mission was to give protection to the pilgrims -- they had been given numerous estates in various European countries. The French estate was the most beautiful, covering the whole Marais. It was a large fortified enclosure guarded by an 8m high powerful donjon.

    Philip the Fair dissolved this very powerful order. To be able to use the Order's possessions, he brought an action against the great prior Jacques de Molay who was sentenced and burned in the Ile aux Juifs (Place Dauphine) in 1314.

    During the French Revolution in 1789, only the donjon was still standing. It was razed to the ground a few years later. Old clothes dealers later came to sell their goods in this location, which was covered with tiles (carreaux) - therefore its name "Carreau du Temple".

  7. Pont Tournant
  8. The Dieu turning bridge (1884-85)

  9. Hospital Saint-Louis
  10. Built by order of Henri IV in 1607, it is the same type of architecture as the Place les Vosges and is still a hospital today.

  11. Ecluse des Recollets (double lock)
  12. Named after the Convent of Recollets, Henri IV had authorized the Franciscan monks to settle there and Marie de Medici had laid the first stone for the building of the monastery in 1607. The convent was later turned into a hospital and today houses tthe architecture department of the Ministry of Environment. The building is currently being renovated.

    Part of this lock became famous thanks to the movie Hotel du Nord by Marcel Carne, with Arletty and Louis Jouvet.

  13. Ourcq Basin
  14. This basin is a meeting place for fishermen; eight different types of fish coming from the Ourcq Canal can be caught here. At this point, the canal goes over about one hundred 8-10m high pillars. Just like the ground under Notre Dame, this part of the canal rests on pillars.

  15. Ecluse des Morts (double lock)
  16. Named after a Merovingian necropolis found here from the 4th-5th century, the lock walls are covered with fresh water shellfish very much enjoyed by the ducks.

    The Grange aux Belles area was completely rebuilt. The street which gave its name to the area was the field of action of the "Belles" whom their visitors met in a "grange" (or barn) turned into an inn.

    On a nearby hill, the Montfaucon Gallows, which inspired great fright and horror in the Parisians, were rebuilt. The gallows were 25m high and 60 p[eople could be hanged at the same time on different levels. The first level was for small-time thieves, while the second level was reserved for V.I.P.s. Between the 13th and the 18th century, twenty finance ministers ended their career at Montfaucon. The gallows were destroyed during the French Revolution in 1789.

  17. Voute Louis Blanc
  18. On the side you can see the towing mechanism used for barges where were not self-propelled yet (around 1920 and even into the 1950s). Barges that have been turned into theaters and cafes can be seen in this area where a large urban development project is underway.

  19. Ecluse Jaures (double lock)
  20. Its name comes from Avenue Jean Jaures located nearby, which was the old road to Germany used by the French kings when they went to Reims for their coronation. Louis XVI also used it when he flew to Varennes and back. The victorious Napoleon came through here in 1807 and on March 30, 1814, the armies allied against Napoleon marched through here on the way back from a battle where Field Marshal Mortier was forced to surrender. The armistice was signed in a small inn near the rotunda, the "Petit Jardinet", by Marmont for France; by the King of Prussia; by the Prince of Schwarzemberg for Austria; and by the Czar for Russia.

    The Cossacks who took possession of Paris at that time used to yell when entering a pub, "Bistro, Bistro!" This Russian word for "Quick!" was adopted and is now used to refer to a wine shop or cafe. The first cafe with this name was located at Place du Tertre in Montmartre (La Mere Catherine).

  21. Rotonde de la Villette
  22. Built by Ledoux (1785-1789), this building used to be a tollhouse. Three more buildings like it were erected: one in Place Denfert-Rochereau, and one in Parc Monceau. The rotunda burned down in 1871 and was later rebuilt. Today it houses the Paris Archeological Department.

  23. Ancien Village de la Villette
  24. This village was incorporated into the city of Paris in 1860. We can see on the left the Saint Christopher and Saint Jacques de Bitche Church built by architect LeQuex in 1844.Here we can also see the canal intersection of Ourcq and St. Denis, with a first lock (9.4m high).

    In front is the Park de la Villette (55 hectares) through which runs the Ourcq Canal. The Park is divided into two areas:

    1. the Center for Sciences and Industry, and the Geode (with a 36m hemispheric screen designed for 350 persons), and an amusement park for children
    2. a Music Center with the Zenith (capacity 6000), the Old Cattle Market (built by a student of Baltard).

  25. Bassin de La Villette
  26. Completed in 1808, the basin is 700m long, 70m wide, and 25m above the level of the Seine. It is a non-drinking water reservoir for Pair. The daily water consumption of the capital is 380,000 square meters (180,000 square meters of which is supplied by this basin). The water is used for watering landscapes, cleaning the streets, and for some fountains (Innocents Fountain in the Halles). The remaining 200,000 square meters come from the Seine.

    In the 19th century, this basin was an outing area and meeting place for Parisians. It was edged with a double row of gardens and trees. This is where the famour "Guingettes" or cafes were (for instance, Chez la Mere Radig which led to the Montmartre style, because the owner greeted her clients with insults!).

    During very cold winters (1810, 1820, 1821, 1827), it was possible to ice skate and to have sledge races on the basin. The city of Paris wants to restore the basin to its 19th century look. The warehouses which surround it will be either renovated or destroyed to make room for 32,000 square meters of landscaped areas.

    The basin is closed by the Crimea Lift Bridge. The old general stores are located on both sides of the basin and are now being used by artists, painters, and sculptors.

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