The canals of Paris

The Canal Saint-Martin is a 2.86 mile long canal in Paris, connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the river Seine. Almost half of the canal, the section between the Rue du Faubourg du Temple and the Place de la Bastille, runs below the surface.

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Gaspard de Chabrol,  the prefect of Paris, proposed building a canal from the river Ourcq, 100 km northeast of Paris, to supply the city with fresh water to support the growing population and help avoid diseases such as dysentery and cholera, while also supplying fountains and allowing the streets to be cleaned. Construction of the canal was ordered by Napoleon I in 1802; it was finished in 1825 and was funded by a new tax on wine.

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The canal was also used to supply Paris with grain, building materials and other goods, carried on canal boats. Two ports were created on the canal in Paris to unload the boats: Port de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette.

By the 1960s, traffic had dwindled to a trickle and the canal narrowly escaped being filled in and paved over for a highway.

If you’ve seen the very charmant Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 movie, you’ll be interested to know that the Canal St-Martin forms the backdrop for some of the film’s most atmospheric scenes, including the iron footbridges and tree-shaded quays. Nowadays, this gentrifying, 19th-century waterway draws a trendy crowd to its shabby-chic bars and appetizing bistros starting with Chez Prune.

Once you’ve crossed the quirky 1885 hydraulic lift bridge, pont de Crimée, you’re in Parc de la Villette. Futuristic and cutting-edge, this is where you can visit major science and music museums, picnic on the lawns (especially during the summer open-air film festival) and take in concerts at big venues.

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