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Along the Banks of the Seine


The Seine is a central (literally) landmark of Paris, and yet it often escapes attention, lined as it is with famous landmarks and elegant bridges, and also because for most of its length in central Paris you have to look down to see it; the city rises on embankments above it.


Some of the embankments are remnants of ancient walls built to protect the ancient city; most are much later efforts to contain the river and its ability to flood significant parts of the city, which it has, as recently as 2018 (upper picture), banks be damned. The lower two photos are of the 1910 Great Flood, one in the street, the other inside the riverside Orsay railroad station, now the Musée d'Orsay.


Along the banks, for much of the 20th century, priority went to a series of highways, carrying thousands of cars along its route, but just out of sight, and also keeping many at arms' length from the river.


Although it was always possible to find a place to walk closer to the river, it was often an uncomfortable sharing of space with traffic and fumes, but in the past two decades, more and more of the riverside space has been recaptured for pedestrians, play and pleasure, including an annual artificial beach, Paris Plages.


Aside from the historical views, the pictures here are from a number of different walks along the river and a few boat trips along it. I'l looking forward to future visits, and more time on the banks of the Seine. 


In earlier times, the river mostly flowed between natural banks, and had a very busy life in commerce of all kinds. Paris is still France's second-busiest port, although you'd not know it from the central area of the city. Flowing west from Paris, the Seine reaches the sea at Le Havre.


These days it can be hard to distinguish working boats from pleasure craft, especially since so many of the pleasure craft and houseboats are retired or adapted working craft.


In the 19th century, Claude Monet and others painted workers along the river, building the quays, unloading coal and building some of the city's 37 bridges. Below, Monet's 'Les Charbonniers' or coal haulers and Maximilien Luce's 'Stevedores.'


In this 1937 view, the industrial nature of the river is still evident; what is less evident on the near shore is that this particular spot was popularly use by people to bathe and style dogs, either professionally or trim-by-owner.

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Provision for swimming and bathing for humans happened here, too; this 1937 image of a bathhouse anchored along the river is by Estonian painter Andrus Johani.

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It's not difficult to get down to the lower levels along the river; almost every bridge is accompanied by steps or in a couple of cases ramps. And the walls are not, as you can see, just blank walls; a variety of facilities are tucked in there, including, next to the impromptu café, a restroom. Incidentally, the café was recognized in our One-Clue Mystery this week by George G.


A somewhat more recent addition to the riverside attractions has been play areas of various kinds.P1060933P1060934

Walking along at closer to water level provides some interesting close-up views of the bridges. My favorite views are not of the ornamentation, but of the strong elements of construction, of steel and stone.


Which is not to say that getting up-close to the decorative elements is off the table, and you get a different views to that available crossing above on a bus or even on foot.


The shapes of the walls and steps vary from point to point, reflecting their age and functions; here, at right, an almost hidden view of Notre Dame from the river where it splits around the Île de la Cité.P1060856

Views from the water offer other views besides the bridges and the boats; our tour-boat captain made a sharp turn to allow an undisturbed passage, although the birds hardly deigned to notice. Below, another bird, in a spectator role, and because I have a fondness for bird pictures.


Areas of activity along the river range from organized, including cafés and crafts, to just some alone time with friends. In the upper picture, note the backs of the bookstalls of the bouquinistes along the Left Bank of the river. Walking along them gives the impression that they are at the riverside, but clearly not!



Turn left here, please, for the Canal Saint-Martin and beyond. Paris's canal system, including Saint-Martin, the Bassin de la Villette, the Canal Saint-Denis and the Canal de l'Ourck plays a role beyond recreation; they help regulate water flow and provide a bypass no longer much used by freight.


Getting around central Paris by bus offers far more interesting views than the riding the Métro; if you're up for a good walk, the banks of the Seine give you another set of great views as you cross the city.



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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