Recently I learned a new word in French; ‘crue‘. Literally translated as ‘flood’, there has been a fairly large use of this ‘mot’ during Paris’ long and complicated history of rising waters. Dating back to way before the Roman Empire, before the Seine was gifted its current name, and when the city was still known as Lutetia, Paris still flooded on a grand scale just as often as it does now. That is to say, once or twice every decade or two. Here’s a brief rundown of flooding in Paris; photos, a history, and how locals measure the height of the waters.
The statue on the bridge & Flooding in Paris
In the very centre of the city, not far from where the Eiffel Tower graces the skyline, there’s one statue which is used by locals to gauge the severity of the flooding. Used as a local ‘yardstick’ of sorts, the stone likeness of a soldier under Pont Alma, and known as ‘the Zouave’ indicates just how high the water has risen.
8.62m was how tall the river rose in the great flood of the Seine in 1910. The water level reached the soldier’s shoulders. To give you an indication, whenever the water rises to the soldier’s shoes, the Seine is closed for boats. In 2015, the water rose to a total of 6.5 above the normal level, reaching the statue’s waist.
The Great Seine Flood of 1910
One of the greatest Paris floodings of all time occurred in 1910, and records suggest that it was reminiscent of an even great flood that happened in 1658. Luckily, no casualties were reported and Parisians stuck together in solidarity to make it through the murky depths of the rising Seine.
In total, the flood lasted over a month and a half and affected almost every part of Paris, as well as its environs. The metro was closed for month upon month. Heavy snow, rainstorms, already saturated water tables all contributed to an estimated damage to the economy of 1.6 billion euros in today’s money.
The city was transformed from the City of Lights, and into the City of Canals, much like France’s Italian neighbour of Venice to the South, and Amsterdam to the West. People rowed boats along the Cour de Rome and sailed in lieu of hopping on local trams and metros.
People in the 8e arrondissement of the city walking across what was once a road on wooden stilts. The chic district of the 8e is characterised by its traditional Haussmannian architecture and is the home of beautiful spaces such as Parc Monceau.
Sandbanks along the Seine form a barrier to protect the Louvre Museum, in the 1e arrondissement of the city. First constructed as a Royal Palace, parts of the Louvre has been a public museum since at least 1793. Today, the culture hub holds treasured works such as The Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and plenty of Ancient Greek and Roman artefacts. It’s currently the largest museum in the world, and is most definitely a must see on any visit to the city.
Today, small markings have been made on the side of buildings and storefronts to commemorate the flooding in Paris which submerged so much of the city in the early 20th-century. One of the best places to spy one of these little plaques can be found on Rue des Chantres, a pretty and narrow street on Île de la Cité.
Geography of the River Seine
The Seine starts in Burgundy, and winds its way through France, traversing Paris, and stretching a distance of close to 500 miles before it reaches the sea, close to the port city of Le Havre. Along the way, it crosses plenty of other French towns and settlements, including the ancient and medieval city of Rouen, which also happens to be the capital of the French region of Normandy.
The French Rivers of Aube, the Yonne, and the Marne also converge into the Seine, just before the river enters Paris. This means that whenever there is a particularly large deluge of rain, frost, or snow, four lots of river water end up having to go through Paris! Apart from the recent floods of 2016, 2018, and the flood of 1910, severe flooding in Paris of the Seine in the past century took place in 1924, 1955, 1982, and 1999–2000.