The Seine Flood of 1910 in Paris

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The Seine Flood of 1910 in Paris
Fluctuat nec mergitur is a Latin mouthful which translates into “she is tossed by the waves but she does not sink.” It’s the motto for the city of Paris. An obvious analogy for resilience and strength, it’s an odd saying for a city on a river, not the sea. Nevertheless, the residents of Paris, as far back as the Roman city of Lutetia, have needed the resilience and strength to deal with the flooding of the Seine.  Today no one is around to recall the flood of 1910, but it remains in the city’s consciousness. Not only was the height of the Seine memorable, but also for the first time, images of its high waters were recorded in news of the day. The bricks and mortar of Paris remember too.  Sepia photographs and postcards (some still for sale at the bouquinistes) showed bowler-hatted men traveling piggyback, their trousers rolled up to their knees. These vintage photos show how the murky, debris-strewn water erased the banks of the Seine and turned streets into canals and public squares in lagoons. Almost overnight, the Seine had turned Paris into the Venice of France, with Parisian gondoliers offering rescue and food to those residents stranded in their homes.   The flood on avenue Montaigne. Photo Credit: Bibliothèque nationale de France. Public domain. In late January 1910, the Seine had peaked to 20 feet (6m) above its usual height – the highest level the river had measured in 250 years. Northern France had experienced a perfect storm of events that led to the drowning not just of Paris but the entire region. Temperatures were unusually warm and weeks of winter rain and snow left the soil saturated; the tributaries of the Seine began to overflow. At Monet’s garden at Giverny, 50 miles (80km) northwest of Paris, the Seine flood covered the artist’s Japanese bridge, causing him great distress.  However, Parisians were unalarmed. They’d become accustomed to the Seine rising in January. Ironically, it was believed that Baron Haussmann’s modernization of the city’s water and sewage system assured further protection. The sewers were supposed to drain the excess water away. It wasn’t possible, they thought, for flooding to occur at catastrophic levels any longer.   The Seine usually sets its own level at more than 30 feet (9.1m) below the street-level quays. Parisians to this day commonly measure the height of the floods on the statues ornamenting the span of the Pont d’Alma, especially that of the Zouave. This colonial solider stares down the length of the Seine with one foot in front of the other. Parisians of 1910 paid little attention when the Seine was lapping at his boots.   Quai des Grands-Augustins, Rue Gît-le-Cœur during the flood of 1910 in Paris. Photo credit: Bibliothèque nationale de France/ Public domain
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Lead photo credit : Zouave statue during the flood of the Seine in Paris, January 26, 2018. Photo credit: Ibex73/ Wikimedia Commons

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.