A specific word in French indicates rivers that end in oceans : fleuve. Getting my hair cut the other day in Boulogne Billancourt not far from the Seine I asked my coiffeuse, an immigrant like myself, if she knew anything about the Seine. « I know it’s a floose » she replied. Everyone in the salon erupted in laughter. This fleuve is no floose.
Traversing Paris under 37 bridges on it’s 776 kilometer run from a plateau north of Dijon to the English channel at Le Havre, the Seine, steeped in history with a capital H, is one of five principal ocean-flowing rivers in France. The Loire is the longest at 1010 kilometers. La Garonne, Le Rhône and Le Rhin are the others. Until joined by the tributary Aube, the river Seine carries the first of its noms-de-fleuve, the Petite-Seine. Farther on, augmented again by the Yonne at Montereau, it is the Haute-Seine until Paris. Then it is the Basse-Seine to Rouen and, finally, the Seine-Maritime to the sweep of the sea. The Seine everybody sees is in Paris. The river crosses Paris from east to west for exactly 12780 meters which represents just 1.64% of its total length. The 217 bouquinistes of Paris are booksellers of used and antiquarian books who ply their trade along large sections of the banks of the Seine: on the right bank from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre, and on the left bank from the Quai de la Tournelle to Quai Voltaire. The Seine can thus be described as the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves. To change the metaphor : The Seine has been long considered France’s digestive tract: For two thousand years grain moved upriver along this alimentary tract passing peniches of wine heading downstream. The Seine is in no hurry. Starting at 446 meters of altitude at its source to 0 meters at sea level the river drops 57 centimeters per kilometer. That translates to 6 centimeters every 100 meters, or 6 mm every 10 meters. This explains the weak current (average speed 2 km / hour) and those impressive worm-like meanders. Interested in more ? What follows are a few suggestions to better acquaint yourself with the Seine, this magnificently extraordinary floose.
Discover Sequana : say bonjour to the goddess
Naturally you have been wondering for a long time why folks living in Seine-Saint-Denis are referred to as Séquanodionysiens. Sequano who ?
Back in Gallo-Roman times, Sequana was the goddess of the river Seine, particularly the springs at the source of the Seine (owned by the city of Paris since 1864), and the Gaulish tribe the Sequani. The springs, called the Fontes Sequanae was the incredible site in the 2nd or 1st century BC of a most impressive healing shrine which included two temples, a colonnaded precinct and other related structures centered on the spring and pool. Pilgrims came from far and wide – from Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris) to Massilia (Marseille) in hopes of healing at this early-day Lourdes. Thousands of dedications and offerings were made to Sequana at her temples. Archeological digs in the 19th century uncovered a large vase inscribed with her name and filled with bronze and silver ex-votos — models of parts of human bodies to be cured by her. Wooden and stone images of limbs, internal organs, heads, and complete bodies were offered to Sequana in the hope of or thanks for a cure, as well as numerous coins and items of jewelry. Respiratory illnesses and eye diseases were common. Pilgrims were frequently depicted as carrying offerings to the goddess, including money, fruit, or a favorite pet dog or bird. The prized archeological find? A bronze statue of a woman, draped in a long gown with a diadem on her head, is believed to represent Sequana. She stands on a boat, the prow of which is shaped like the head of a palmiped. In its beak a small circular object — a round of goat cheese perhaps or a petanque ball. « For myth spinners », as Mort Rosenblum points out, « it’s a promising start. » The 30 centimeter-tall statue (see photo on previous page) survives in the Musée archéologique de Dijon which is well worth a visit.
Visit a bridge:
alpha and omega
About 257 bridges cross the Seine along it’s entire length.
The first bridge over the Seine can be found in the belly of Burgundy at the river’s source. It’s a small, almost touching structure with a plaque reading Pont Paul Lamarche. Gustave Lamarche — known as Paul — was for many years the guardian of the source of the Seine, planting willows, trimming the grass, cleaning up after degenerates. He and his wife Monique ran the Café Sequana there until 1990. Monique’s omelet was reputed better than those at La Mère Poulard, the famous restaurant of the Mont-Saint-Michel. It was on the occasion of Paul’s hundredth birthday that the bridge was named after him. Crossing the first bridge over the Seine takes 3 or 4 steps according to the length of your stride.
The last bridge to cross the Seine before it empties into the ocean is the Pont de Normandie, a cable-stayed (pont à haubans) road bridge that links Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy. Its total length is 2,143.21 meters — 856 meters between the two piers. Despite being a motorway toll bridge, there is a footpath as well as a narrow cycle lane in each direction allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the bridge free of charge for an exhilarating outing. The extraordinary bridge opened on 20 January 1995. Crossing the last bridge over the Seine takes between 3000 to 4000 steps according to the size of your stride. Exactly 3238 steps for a person of 5’ 3 inches.
This article will be continued next week.