The sunken gems of a Paris canal

The French capitals Canal Saint-Martin is being dredged for the first time in 15 years and the mysterious objects emerging from the sludge unmask the areas secret life

Curious crowds had gathered on the arched footbridges that criss-cross Pariss favourite hipster hang-out, the Canal Saint-Martin, craning to get a look at the oddities poking out of the mysterious brown sludge below.

Bloody hell, its a giant dustbin, told Marie, a local office-worker, taking photos of the mountains of old wine-bottles, scores of office chairs, motorcycles, rolled-up carpets, wheelie suitcases and street signs stranded in the muddy pit.


Scores of the citys Velib hire bikes are among the items littering the bottom of the canal. Photo: Yoan Valat/ EPA

Pariss picturesque Canal Saint-Martin, completed in 1825 but began on the orders of Napoleon, who wanted to reinforce the citys drinking water supply, has in recent years become known as the favoured place of Pariss Bobos bourgeois bohemians wealthy, urban, young leftwingers who love to gather for summer evening aperitifs on the pavements along its banks. The canal is drained and cleaned once every 1015 years, but when it happens, the bizarre items found at the bottom are one of the most curious and intriguing sights in the city, throwing up the mud-caked mysteries of Paris life.


An old ghetto blaster awaits its rescue. Photo: Yoan Valat/ EPA

On Monday, when employees began to slowly empty 90,000 cubic metres of water into the river Seine in a multimillion-euro cleaning operation that will last three months, they found one firearm and police are poised for more. The last day the canal was drained, in 2001, the haul included two 75 mm shells from the first world war, safe, gold coins, cleaning machines, at least one car and 40 tonnes of rubbish. In one earlier cleaning, 56 cars were fished out.

The full inventory is yet to be done the fish have been evacuated and tractors will be brought in to drag away the vast number of items at the bottom. But the opinion from the bridges already discloses an extraordinary amount of debris that has been tipped into the canal in the past decade. There are scores of Pariss Velib hire motorcycles, lots of other motorcycles, myriad chairs of all descriptions, at least one motorbike, supermarket streetcars, shopping caddies, public dustbins, a fire-extinguisher, a childrens dolls pushchair marooned in the middle of the canal, street signs, umbrellas and wheelie suitcases.


One of the many scooters found in the canal. Photo: Charles Platiau/ Reuters

Its like some kind of weird submarine gem, told Marc, 45, a self-employed local resident. I only cant believe the quantity of Velibs in there. I guess they were stolen and thrown in afterwards. Its bizarre, he shrugged.


A vintage camera sits on the bottom, amid hundreds of disposed mussel shells. Photo: SIPA/ Rex/ Shutterstock

Paris city hall, apart from warning people to defy trying to climb in to look for lost possessions that might have dropped in in recent years, are utilizing the workout to warn against littering the canal.

Bernard, 54, a public-sector employee, who had also been on the bridge to witness the last dredging in 2001, was aghast at the mountains of mud-caked wine-bottles and cans. Thats Paris for you, its filthy, he sighed. The last day, I dont remember find so much rubbish in it. I hopelessnes. The Bobos are utilizing it as a dustbin.

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