Mention the Canal Saint Martin in Parisian circles and you’ll likely conjure up talk of favorite coffee shops, shabby-chic brunches, trendy boutiques and sun-soaked apéros with friends. Nowadays however, locals are heading over to admire a different side of the canal — the underside, to be exact.
Every 15 years, in a mix of city mandate and local tradition, the Napoleon-era waterway is drained of its seven feet of water and 20 species of fish– to be thoroughly cleaned and repaired. The byproduct of such an event is a feast for the eyes—a veritable post-apocalyptic wasteland that offers passersby a mud-slathered exhibit of all that’s been dumped into the canal for the past decade and a half.
Leading up to the drainage, the city was abuzz with speculation of what would be uncovered. The findings didn’t disappoint: so far items have included dozens of Vélib’ rental bicycles, baby strollers, traffic cones, office equipment, shopping carts, and even a handgun that was promptly turned over to the police department.
For now, rare is the pedestrian who doesn’t pause over the iron footbridges to peer at the canal’s bizarre nakedness. There’s almost a voyeuristic quality to it all, in addition to a sense of being witness to a brief moment in Paris history.
The cleaning and rehabilitation project is set to last three months and cost nearly 10 million euros, after which the Canal Saint Martin will once again flow through the 10th arrondissement clean and clutter-free… for a short time at least. The countdown will then be reset to approximately the year 2030, at which point future Parisians will have the pleasure of discovering their own batch of discarded treasures from days past.