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Excavators Drained This 200-Year-Old Parisian Canal For The First Time In 15 Years, And This Is What Emerged

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Parisian canal

Some of the most beloved sights of the Parisian landscape are the city’s glorious canals, specifically the picturesque Canal Saint-Martin. The beautiful waterways add to the city’s grandeur, but they are also used in lieu of trash cans and, more nefariously, as places to hide objects that their owners don’t want to be found or that shouldn’t be found. In 2016, the canal was drained for the first time in nearly two decades. As service workers set out on the elaborate process, local residents lined the waterway for the grand reveal of the 200-year-old landmark just to get a glimpse at what lay await at the bottom. From the unexpected to the bizarre, this is what was uncovered.

1. The Secrets Below

Many a Parisian must have been a bit wearisome that much-anticipated day that the Canal Saint Martin was drained in 2016. Firstly, because the municipality was about to expose the dirty underbelly of its beautiful city, and secondly because only Dieu knew what had been hidden underneath the canal’s murky waters.

Canal Saint Martin

Wikimedia Commons

But that didn’t stop people from lining the streets of the famed waterway in anticipation of what was about to appear in the canal. After all, Canal Saint Martin is one of the oldest and most beautiful of Paris’ waterways. Yet still, despite its beauty, some of the most peculiar and inexplicable finds are lurking under the surface.

2.  An Iconic Parisian Landmark

The history of the canal dates all the way back to Napoleonic times. In fact, Napoleon Bonaparte himself ordered the construction of the Canal Saint Martin in the year 1802. Construction of the artificial waterway began a few decades later in 1825. The man-made channel serves to connect Canal de I’Ourq to the Seine river.

paris canal

About half of the length of the canal was covered to create wide-spreading boulevards and public parks on ground level. As is custom, the canal is drained every 10 to 15 years. The event always serves as a source of great intrigue among residents and visitors alike. But to appreciate the modern custom, it’s first important to understand its unique history.

3. The Canal’s Construction

Napoleon did a lot to improve the quality of life in what is today’s French capital and build up its infrastructure to support the growing number of people living in the city. In many ways, the iconic former French leader helped to make the city habitable and more comfortable in a way that it had never been before.

Canal Saint Martin

One of the methods that Napoleon used to make Paris more habitable was the creation of Canal Saint Martin, which was created to provide fresh water to the residents of the city. Meaning that not only were the residents no longer dependent on still water, they were also much healthier. But that wasn’t all.

4. Of Hygiene And History

Due to the usage of still water in the city of Paris, there were massive outbreaks of disease such as dysentery and cholera. The new waterway also provided water to fountains on the streets which could be used to clean the streets more regularly.

Canal Saint Martin

Apart from all the hygienic improvements, the new waterway also made way for a new supply route for grains, building materials and other goods that were vital to the lifeblood of the city. Two ports were created along the path of the canal- Port de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette. However, over time, the usage of the canal has drastically changed.

5. A Savior in Disguise

In the early days after the canal was built, it was revered as something of a godsend to the city, saving the booming population of Paris from certain disease and mass starvation. However, as the years moved on, its purpose changed from necessity to luxury.

Canal Saint Martin

Nowadays, Canal Saint Martin is mainly used for its aesthetic beauty and the majority of boats that sail its canals are scenic tour cruises. But on top of all of that, the canal holds a dirty secret that isn’t very well hidden. That secret is that the canal is used by many as a method to get rid of certain items.

6. Let Them Drink Wine!

In order to finance the building of the Canal Saint Martin, Napoleon raised taxes on one of France’s favorite beverages, wine. Much to the dismay of the local population. But thanks to the tax, the city was able to fund the drainage project for the massive canal.

Canal Saint Martin


As everyone knows, the French are famous for their love of wine. They love to make it, they love to drink it, and they also at times dispose of the bottles sometimes improperly. Incidentally, when the city decided to finally drain the canal in order to clean it, one of the major items found on the bottom of the waterway were wine bottles.

7. Quick, Call Inspector Clouseau!

As with most major water reservoirs, lakes and rivers, people also try to hide things in the watery depths. During the 2016 drainage project, a handgun was found at the bottom of the canal. The handgun was turned over to French authorities and an investigation was soon underway.

Canal Saint Martin


The perpetrator must have been in a hurry to get rid of some evidence when they decided to throw a gun in the Canal Saint Martin. Either that or it was unintentionally a huge mistake that made a big splash. But that wasn’t the only unexpected object found at the bottom on the canal that had people scratching their heads.

8. Bicycles Galore

Believe it or not, one of the most popular items found at the bottom of the canal were bicycles. While many ended up in the watery grave by accident (things will inevitably fall into open waterways by accident), many of them were believed to have been stolen.

Canal Saint Martin

The most popular bicycles found at the bottom of Canal Saint Martin were from a bike rental company called Velib. Nearly 100 of their bicycles were found at the bottom of the canal and the list of stolen Velib bikes became far too long to list. By the time that the bike are fished out of the canal they’re usually beyond repair and doomed to the garbage heap. Still, they’re not the only vehicles found below the surface.

9. Accidents Do Happen

Some items located at the bottom of the canal must have gotten there by tragic accident. Such is the case for the number of mopeds and motorbikes that were found at the bottom of Saint Martin. Now that really has to hurt your pocketbook…

Canal Saint Martin

We haven’t checked with every insurance company in the world, but we’re pretty sure that insurance isn’t going to cover a darn thing if your moped or motorcycle falls into a canal, likely to never be seen again. That is, unless, you return to the exact spot it fell in during the drainage period. And that would be one bittersweet reunion. Man-made objects aren’t the only matter of concern when draining the famed French canal.

10. Saving the wildlife

One of the major issues when the municipality goes to drain any of the city’s canals is wildlife and preserving their habitat. It might surprise you, however, to learn that despite the pollution in the Canal Saint Martin, the wildlife is not significantly affected.

Canal Saint Martin


“We have found very few fish that are sick or malformed. That’s surprising when you see what’s there at the bottom of the canal,” one expert stated. The water levels are initially lowered to around 50 cm and around 4.5 tons of fish, mainly bream, carp and trout, are safely removed before the water levels are completely drained.

11. Eau De Toilette

No, people aren’t dumping fancy perfumes and colognes into the Canal Saint Martin, although that smells like a lovely thought. In one case, someone apparently had the (Charles de) gall to throw an old, used toilet seat into the canal. Just give that a second to really sink into your head.

Canal Saint Martin

Canals are not garbage dumps people! Waste items, especially gross ones such as toilet seats, should be properly disposed of and not chucked to pollute public areas. We know it used to be called the water closet, but we’re certain this was not what was in mind when the term was coined. The unusual discoveries don’t stop there, though.

12. A Shopping Spree

If you’ve ever been to Paris, then you know that it is all about the shopping. And by the state of this shopping cart that was found at the bottom of the Canal Saint Martin, things must have really gotten out of hand. We can only imagine that someone was running to a fantastic sale when they took a wrong turn into the canal.

Canal Saint Martin

Truth be told, we have no idea how a shopping cart ended up at the bottom of the canal, but it was part of the debris excavated from the bottom of the canal during the 2016 drainage. Guess this is what they mean by shop ’til you drop?

13. Digging For Gold

There were many hopes among the local population of Paris that officials and volunteers would find some missing hidden treasure at the bottom of the canal, and they weren’t far off. While the authorities were hoping to find some well-preserved stamps from the olden days of yore, they did find some valuable relics.

Canal Saint Martin


Excavators found what appeared to be some coins at the bottom of the canal, which after some cleaning and further investigating by experts turned out to be rare gold coins that were estimated to be valued at several thousand dollars. Now that’s a find worth writing home about.

14. An Odd Item

One of the most peculiar items found at the bottom of the drained Canal Saint Martin was a wheelchair. By the looks of it, it had been laying in the watery depths for some time, but only speculation could possibly determine just why or how it ended up there.

Canal Saint Martin

We can only hope that this was the result of someone’s moment of triumph when they no longer needed to use the wheelchair and decided to toss the superfluous item into the canal. Either that or perhaps the empty, lone wheelchair ended up drifting down the walkway lining the canal and voila?

15. Très Chic?

Paris is known as the fashion capital of the world. As one of the world’s most renowned cradles of all that’s chic, the city houses numerous top-tier labels and a 150 billion euro fashion industry. That being said, all those textiles and luxury good have to be manufactured somewhere.

Canal Saint Martin

The Local France

As discovered in the emptying of the Canal Saint Martin, the result of those effort can sometimes end in the most peculiar of ways. Case in point: when a lone mannequin was retrieved from the canal. Let’s just hope it wasn’t the sign of a sinking business. Along with all the unusual objects at the bottom of the canal, is something more ominous.

16. So Much Waste

The nearly-three-mile-long Canal Saint Martin is considered one of Paris’ most beautiful canals, but unfortunately, it is also considered the dirtiest canal in all of the city. When the canal was drained and cleaned in 2016, the first time since 2001, workers removed more than 40 tons of debris and trash.

Canal Saint Martin

The cleaning of any of the city’s many canals is a bizarre sight that always attracts loads of on-lookers. For many people, the sight is a spectacle that just can’t be missed. The entire city buzzes with excitement at the sometimes rare and valuable artifacts that can be found in the empty canal. But what is the cause of these conditions?

17. Menace of the ‘Bobos’

The area surrounding the Parisian canal has recently become a very trendy place to hang out, especially at night. So if you were to ask one of the local Parisians why the canal is so filthy, they will more than likely blame it all on the ‘Bobos.’

Canal Saint Martin

‘Bobos,’ in the native Parisian slang is code for bourgeois bohemians (a.k.a. hipsters), the likes of which frequent the upscale neighborhoods of the Canal Saint Martin, which includes the fashionable 10th Arrondissement district. Due to its status as a hotspot for nightlife activities may explain whey so many bottles of wine gets tossed into the canal on a daily basis. Then again, modern items aren’t the only one found at the bottom of the canal.

18. WWI Findings

During the 2001 drainage and subsequent cleaning of the Canal Saint Martin some very old items were found lingering in the depths. That included 75 mm tank shells that heralded all the way back to the World War I, and that wasn’t the only historical treasure found during that cleaning.

Canal Saint Martin

The authorities also found many closed safes that were unceremoniously thrown into the canal, most likely for safekeeping during one of the World Wars. After all, when the Nazis invaded Paris, people were in a frenzy to protect their valuables, and hey, if you lived right in front of the canal, perhaps it seemed like one of the safest places as any to hide your valuables.

19. An Array Of Autos

Prior to the most recent draining of the Canal Saint Martin in 2016, the iconic watercourse was cleared in 2001. During that operation, a grand total of 56 cars were fished out of the canal! Driving underwater has long been a technological advance desire by mankind, but we don’t think this is what was aimed for.

Canal Saint Martin

Unfortunately, all of the cars recovered from the canal were deemed total losses, no part of them was salvageable. Forget the Grand Prix, apparently watching the draining of the Canal Saint Martin is one of the most entertaining events in automobile culture. It’s a shame, but c’est la vie.

20. Drinking Water

The fact that the Canal Saint Martin was one of those commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to provide clean drinking water to the bustling city of Paris is simply astounding. At the time, the city’s canals did serve such a purpose, allowing tons of residents access to fresh water.

Canal Saint Martin

The construction of the canals was a bold move for Bonaparte, and his intentions were definitely in the right place, but during modern times no one would dare even think of drinking the water that runs through the polluted channels. Seeing as they are now grounds for tons of garbage and overall pollutants, some residents are still shocked that no three-eyed fish were found in the canal after the past few cleanings.

21. The Route

The Canal Saint Martin in the heart of Paris starts from the vast terminal basin, Bassin de la Villette, off of the Canal de L’Ourcq near the Palace de Stalingrad. The canal then flows towards the Seine river and passes under three underground tunnels – the du Temple, the Richard-Lenoir and the Bastille.

Canal Saint Martin

Two ports were also added to the canal for loading and unloading cargo- Port de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette. Traffic down the canal dwindled to a near halt in the 1960s and the canal was nearly filled in and turned into a highway. But luckily that never happened.

22. Tourism For All

Today, the canal’s primary function is for tourism, numerous canal tour boats run down it every few minutes for some good old fashioned Parisian sightseeing. And the municipality tries its best to keep the canal clean and garbage free with these more drastic efforts.

Canal Saint Martin


Now that we are living in more eco-friendly times, the canal is drained and completely cleaned every 10 to 15 years to ensure that it stays in pristine condition. The canal is also still used for commercial purposes, such as the transportation of goods to and from the region. But it all comes at a pretty price.

23. The 10th Arrondissement

Today, residents of the exclusive 10th Arrondissement district pay up to $10,000 per square foot for their apartments overlooking the grand site. And while the iconic canal that runs through the area may be beautiful to look at, you never know what might be lurking at the bottom of the canal’s murky waters.

Canal Saint Martin

Book A Flat

Yet even though the waters may be murky and still full of garbage, there are big plans in the works to overhaul the Canal Saint Martin into something much more pleasant than a trash dump. And those plans, should they come into fruition, would change the entire city.

24. The Vision

Celia Blauel, the deputy mayor of environmental issues in Paris, has a huge goal in mind for the Canal Saint Martin. She aims to give the canal a makeover so that it is transformed into pristine condition within the upcoming few years that the water will be clean enough to swim in.

Canal Saint Martin

“If everyone mucks in and avoids throwing anything in the water, we might be able to swim in the canal in a few years, as in numerous other European cities,” she told Le Parisien. We will be sure to keep our fingers crossed that this dream will soon become a reality, as it would be sure to attract more tourism to the area. Interestingly, Canal Saint Martin isn’t the only major European canal that’s purposely drained on a regular basis.

25. More Canal Findings

Another major drainage project occurred in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam between 2003 to 2013, when the Amstel River was drained for the construction of a new metro line in the city. The canal hadn’t been drained for some 800 years and the findings were immense. So much so that many of the items were transformed into works of art.

Canal Saint Martin


Around 5,000 of the objects found were placed on display in two separate Amsterdam metro stations. “We’re not just talking about individual objects, we’re talking about the reflection of the city itself given by the objects that have fallen in the river,” Jerzy Gawronski, an urban archaeologist that worked on the project stated.

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