When Authorities Drained This 200-Year-Old Canal, What They Found at The Bottom Was Extraordinary

Take a moment to conjure up an image of Paris in your head. Are you done? What you imagine was probably beautiful streets paved with stone, Parisian bakeries and French boutiques, and maybe even the Eiffel Tower shining in the distance. While those are all real images of Paris, they aren’t the only way to see the city. As one of the oldest cities in the world, Paris is littered with historical landmarks, old roads, and ancient canals. Today, we’ll be talking about what lay hidden underneath one of those 200-year-old canals. Beautiful on the surface, what lay below the waters of the Canal Saint-Martin would end up shocking workers and locals alike.

An Iconic Canal

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The Canal Saint-Martin was dug and installed in Paris over 200 years ago. Napoleon himself deemed the canal a requirement in order to bring fresh water into the city of Paris. His goal was to use the canal to keep the surging population of the city, nearly 550,000 people at the time, well watered and protected from drought. 

A Tourist Destination

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In the intervening years since Napoleon first had the canal installed, the water feature itself has turned into something of a tourist attraction. Despite the surface beauty of the canal, residents of Paris and the government alike all understand that the canal is notoriously dirty. In fact, in 2001, government workers commenced a cleaning operation that would unveil over 40 tons of garbage lurking below the surface!

A Trio Of Canals

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A trip to Paris cannot be considered complete until one takes a luxurious boat ride on the canals. There are actually three prominent canals in Paris including the Canal Saint-Martin. There is also the Canal De I’Ourcq and the River Seine. The water features of Paris are as intrinsic to the personality of the city as the Eiffel Tower itself.

The Infamous La Bastille

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Staying focused on the Canal Saint-Martin, visitors will see the immense water feature flow beneath where the La Bastille once stood. La Bastille was a massive prison that was destroyed during the French Revolution. Currently, La Bastille is covered by walking boulevards so that pedestrians can traverse over the canal.

Made With Wine

Well, not exactly. The Canal Saint-Martin was created and funded via taxation. Specifically, taxes were levied on wine and then shifted toward paying for the canal. While being taxed for wine doesn’t sound like a great deal, the Canal Saint-Martin provided a passage for fresh water, food supplies, and lumber to be brought into town.

Before Being Drained

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The city government knew that what lurked beneath the Canal Saint-Martin was likely to shock people. The government also understood that they couldn’t simply let the canal turn into a festering water feature, filled with garbage. Here is a close look at the canal before it was drained. What do you think lay beneath that murky surface?

A Wider View

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While we know that the canal has had a shaky history in regards to garbage, it is hard to ignore how picturesque the feature is. The Canal Saint-Martin is definitely one of the many amazing features that dot Paris’s landscape.

Beginning The Operation

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In order for the Canal Saint-Martin to properly be cleaned, a dam had to first be installed. This dam was placed at an intersection of the waterway by a massive crane. The blockade was installed in order to prevent more water from flowing into the canal while simultaneously protecting some of the natural wildlife in the area.

Cleaning Begins

For all of our technological progress over the past 200 years, nothing can beat dedicated individuals with a net and a will. Cleaning begins in earnest thanks to hardworking locals who don safety gear and the courage to jump into the water.

Walking On Water

After the Canal Saint-Martin was finally drained, water levels were so low that people could simply walk across the canal. This was the first time in nearly 200 years that the canal was empty which made it quite the attraction for local onlookers. What lay beneath all of that water, well, that was what people were really interested in.

A Hard Job

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While cleaning the canal was necessary, it was also an incredibly difficult job. To make things more difficult, the streets were lined with performers who were having their businesses disrupted due to the action. Coming to Paris to see the beautiful canals only to witness a cleaning crew, well, that would put a damper on the romance of the situation!

A Living Ecosystem

The last time that the canal had been cleaned was in 2001 and even then, it wasn’t a deep cleaning.  During the cleaning session of 2001, workers found all manner of amazing treasures including cars, WWI bullet casings, gold, and even a washing machine!

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

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Unfortunately, the canal itself also became home to the wastefulness of man. Nearly 40 tons of garbage was cleaned out of the canal due to people being careless and wasteful. Paris has started to gain a reputation for being slightly dirty and the unfortunate findings inside of the Canal Saint-Martin only back up those claims.

$10 Million Dollar Project

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Cleaning out the canal was NOT an inexpensive task. In fact, the project took three months and it would end up costing over $10 million. Despite the length of time that the project took and the extensive bill, the government of Paris knew that it was a project worth doing.

Moving Fish Around

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In order to protect the ecosystem of the canal, workers had to carefully relocate fish from inside of the waterway. Workers would find bream, carp, and trout inside the canal.  By draining the water level to just 20 inches, workers were able to easily spot and relocate fish. What a job!

Unbelievable Amounts Of Trash

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Finding trash was, unfortunately, to be expected. What was not to be expected was how much trash there was. Bottles, bags, and traffic cones made up the bulk of the garbage that was found. It both shocked and saddened locals to see how the historic canal was treated.

Lost Furniture

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As the water level receded, some truly bizarre items began to appear in the mud. Here we see an unbelievable collection of furniture that had been simply thrown into the canal. Why? Who would do such a thing?

Collection of Bikes

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Soon workers began to unearth massive amounts of bicycles. These bicycles dated back to a city program called Velib which began in 2007. Velib was a bike rental service that was created in order to give people safe, environmentally friendly ways to commute to work. We guess that people didn’t like the program.

Random Motorcycles

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While random bicycles being thrown into the water at least seemed feasible, nobody could understand why Vespas and motorcycles were finding their way into the water. Here we see a massive pile of waste featuring bicycles, furniture, carts, and a few odd motorcycles. One witness at the scene of the clean-up blamed the excessive waste on the ‘youth of today’.

A Return To Form

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Hopefully, this latest drainage will inspire people to be more mindful of how they treat their waterways. At one point in time, the Canal Saint-Martin was a clean and beautiful waterway.  In 1802, people would even drink directly from the canal. Now, you’d be better off drinking from your toilet.

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