Lonely Planet Writer

Treasures and trash found in Paris canal dredging

Paris’s Canal Saint-Martin is being dredged for the first time since 2001, unveiling mountains of both trash and treasure.

Canal Saint Martin, Paris
Canal Saint Martin, Paris Image by ho visto nino volare / CC BY-SA 2.0

The 4.5km-long canal is a favoured spot for the capital’s bourgeois bohemians, who can be found sipping aperitifs along its banks each evening. However, for the next three months their view is more likely to take in sludge, empty wine bottles and rusting bicycles, than waters gently lapping the canal walls. “ it’s a giant dustbin,” Marie, a local office-worker, told The Guardian.

Some 90,000 cubic metres of water from the Canal Saint-Martin is emptied into the Seine every ten to 15 years as authorities remove the waste that has accumulated over that time. It’s a massive undertaking that often uncovers the unexpected. Office chairs, rolled-up carpets, tyres, shopping trolleys, bicycles, suitcases and toilets are among the objects that have been revealed by the receding waters so far.

But if history is any indication, these items represent just the tip of the iceberg of rubbish concealed by the canal’s waters – the last time it was drained, some 40 tonnes of waste, including at least one car, were removed. However, among the trash found on that occasion were also a couple of treasures: authorities discovered two 75mm shells from WWI, as well as safes and gold coins.

In addition to cleaning out the trash, authorities will take the opportunity to repair eight of the nine locks contained within the canal. During the three-month-long project, boat traffic along the canal will understandably be interrupted and sections of the docks will be closed to pedestrians.