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Guest writer, Philippa Campsie for A Woman’s Paris™

Let’s start with the Seine. Everything in Paris starts with the Seine, and so will we, in our first-ever blog for A Woman’s Paris. After all, it is La Seine, a woman.

Exactly 100 years ago, La Seine flooded her banks. Heavy rains had persisted through December 1909 and early January 1910, the tributaries of the Seine swelled, and the river began to rise.

Pont du Carrousel Paris France Barbara Redmond Travel fine art painting River Seine

Pont du Carrousel, Paris by Barbara Redmond

At first, nobody was particularly worried. The Seine had risen before, and the embankments had contained it. The first hint that something was really wrong came on January 21, at precisely 10:50 a.m., when all the municipal electric clocks stopped at once. The power station that ran the clocks had been flooded.

The next week was a nightmare. Huge areas of central Paris were underwater. It was also bitterly cold; photos show the roof of Notre Dame covered with snow. People used boats to navigate the streets – some of the photos from the time could be mistaken for Venice. In some places, people hastily created paths made of planks held up with stones. The Metro, parts of which were still under construction, was badly damaged.

The waters peaked on Friday January 28 (in some places, up to 25 feet above their normal level) and finally began to recede on the Saturday morning. If you can imagine, at their highest the waters completely covered the arches of the Pont du Carrousel in front of the Louvre (shown in Barbara’s illustration).

If you cannot imagine it, you can see photographs at http://www.crue1910.fr or http://inondation1910.paris.fr

Those who have the good fortune to be in Paris this winter can visit one of two exhibits on the flood.

One is at the Pavillon de l’eau, 77 avenue de Versailles, Paris 16eme, between January 20 and April 17, 2010. (Yes, Paris has an entire museum and display area devoted to its water system. The one of us who works in urban planning thinks this is quite wonderful.)

The other is presented by the Historic Libraries of Paris at the Galerie des bibliothèques, 22 rue Malher, Paris 4eme, between January 8 and March 28, 2010.

You can also look for the markings on the walls of some of the old houses on the Ile de la Cité that show how high the water rose.

If you are not in Paris, you can read all about it in Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 by Jeffrey H. Jackson (see http://www.parisunderwater.com).

There are two words used to describe this event in French, as you can see from the website links above. It is sometimes called La crue de la Seinecrue means the rising or overflowing of the river – and the result was une inondation (flood) or a flooded city (Paris inondé). The victims of the disaster were called sinistrés (un sinistre is a disaster).

Book: recommendation by A Woman’s Paris

Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910
By Jeffrey H. Jackson. Palgrave Macmillan publishers. First edition (2010).

Vocabulary: French to English translations

La crue de la Seine: Rising or overflowing of the river.

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Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond
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