simply follow the medallions
January 29, 2018 8:31 AM   Subscribe

"La Seine, immortalized by artists and adored by lovers dangling their feet over the quay, harbours a dark secret. Under the fifth and thirteenth arrondissements grumbles la Bièvre, the Seine’s younger sibling who was banished to the netherworld exactly one hundred and one years ago." Rozena Crossman, Hunting for the Lost River of Paris
posted by everybody had matching towels (16 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
(via TMN. This was published a few years ago so it's more like 106 years ago now but I thought it was cool enough to share regardless)
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:33 AM on January 29, 2018

In the beginning, the Bièvre followed the course that the Seine follows now. The Seine was originally where Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards are today (and also avenue Matignon and avenue Montaigne). Due to successive floods, the Seine usurped the course of the Bièvre.
I did not know that! I love this kind of thing, especially the old photographs; thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

That's the best English article I've seen yet about la Bièvre. When I was in Paris for awhile I spent some time trying to trace its old course. Most of it isn't very interesting, honestly, but it is fun finding the old names and imagining a different city. See also the map of Paris street name history; very helpful for puzzling out some of the history.

One of the most famous cites along the Bièvre is le Manufacture des Gobelins, one of the finest tapestry factories in all of Europe. The dye industry always set up near a river, being such a water intensive business. Tanners too, there's still a Rue des Tanneries very near the old course of the Bièvre. Those industries made a terrible mess. Stink and poison, washed down the Bièvre to the Seine.

(Also, fuck Haussmann and his desecration of medieval Paris. At least what he replaced it with has its own beauty.)
posted by Nelson at 9:19 AM on January 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

The Bièvre is by no means alone. London's Fleet Street gets its name from the old Fleet River (or Ditch); Washington DC has its Tiber Creek a tributary of the Potomac, now largely covered over; and the real Tiber river receives the effluent of the Cloaca Maxima, a stream that was first covered over back in the days of the Roman kings.

I expect there are others in other cities as well.
posted by BWA at 9:43 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

London actually has a whole bunch of buried rivers, and there's a book/walking tour that I've always yearned to go on.

On a fictional front, there's an utterly delightful book series involving buried rivers by Ben Aaronovitch. It's probably one of my top favorite fictional series from the last decade or so, and based on the number of recommendations I've seen for it around here, I'm apparently not the only Mefite who thinks so.
posted by joyceanmachine at 10:01 AM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

There are buried rivers all over the world.
posted by Miss Cellania at 10:12 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

My current city, Nice, has one of these: le Paillon. It used to be the boundary of the old city, and the old walls and mills ran adjacent to it. I believe it was covered over much of its course about 150 years ago. If you go far enough north you can see it uncovered well before you leave the city limits, although it's not much to look at, a gravely thing that doesn't usually have a lot of water in it, until it it becomes a torrent (in the past it was subject to major flooding). The contrast is so striking that it was said to be a mythical river, one that didn't really exist. Given that, its current state is kind of ironic. It was used for laundry until it was covered, and now along almost the entire covered portions of it are some of the city's most visited parks; it probably won't be uncovered anytime soon as it is.
posted by os tuberoes at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh thanks a lot for this. And I really like this sculpture of La Seine, which you can see in Rodez.
posted by nicolin at 10:20 AM on January 29, 2018

One of the most famous cites along the Bièvre is le Manufacture des Gobelins,

Sweet! I always wondered where they made goblins!
posted by Naberius at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Here in my city (Pontiac, Michigan) we had a fairly good sized river that was the entire reason the town was founded here back in the 1820s, including a millpond that sat nearly on the city center. Over time and as the town developed into a city, the river was constrained into culverts and ditches, the millpond was drained, and in the 1950s and 60s the river was buried in large box culverts in the name of "urban renewal".

There has been talk of daylighting the river, but this city can't afford it, and so talk has revolved around marking its course under the city. The medallions they've installed for the Bievre look like something I can get our local historical society to get behind.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by disclaimer at 10:47 AM on January 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nice to see my (old) home on MeFi! Two small sections (of 500-600 m each) of the Bièvre have been reopened in the south of Paris, one in Cachan in 2006 and another one in L'Haÿ-les-Roses in 2016. It's more symbolic than anything else though, and I doubt that the Bièvre will be uncovered in Paris intra muros. Note that if you can't see the Bièvre in Paris, you can certainly smell it in summer near the Poterne des Peupliers, though it's probably nothing compared to the smell of tanneries.

Also this picture (bottom) in the article doesn't do justice to the place. It's actually the Square des Peupliers, a triangular one-way "street" that was created in 1926 on the top of the (now buried) river. The houses are 2-storey only because the ground was found too fragile for building taller ones. The whole Peupliers area is absolutely charming, and let's not forget the nearby section of the abandoned (since 1934) railway tracks and tunnels of the Petite Ceinture that lots of people would like to see (legally) reopened.
posted by elgilito at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

> There are buried rivers all over the world.

Nice! I was going to mention the Neglinnaya in Moscow and Minetta Brook in New York, but no need—there they are.

Any aficionados of Paris history should get hold of a copy of Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris, by Jacques Hillairet; it has all the old maps, photos, and detailed information you could want.
posted by languagehat at 12:16 PM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

So the article says a section was due to be uncovered in 2016...anyone know if it happened?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:17 PM on January 29, 2018

Their name is a play on the words les arts (“the arts”) and lézard (“lizard”) as if they were a team of creative amphibians scurrying around the lost river.

Er, lizards aren't amphibians.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:40 AM on February 9, 2018

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