Canal Saint-Martin

The Canal Saint-Martin is 2 m (6.6 ft) deep and 4.5 km (2.8 miles) long, with over 2 km (1.2 miles) underground, and connects the Bassin de la Villette to the Port de l'Arsenal. It was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, along with the Canal de l'Ourcq and the Canal Saint-Denis, to facilitate navigation and supply Paris with drinking water. During the second half of the 19th century, studies on microbiology (notably by Pasteur) revealed that river water was not fit for drinking, and Haussmann decided to create a drinking water network fed by sources located more than 100 km (62 miles) from Paris. Nowadays the spring water or river water that supplies our taps is purified and made drinkable in treatment plants. Completed in 1825, the Canal Saint Martin requires nine locks to make up for a height difference of 25 m (82 ft) down to the Seine. Commercial traffic has now significantly diminished, giving way to extensive tourist activities, mostly involving passenger boats and private leisure boats. The canal is part of a network of waterways managed by the City of Paris. One of the City's partners, the VNF (Voies Navigables de France - French Navigable Waterways), distributes navigation bulletins (timetables, maintenance work) for all its canals. It manages 6,700 km (4,163 miles) of waterways (operations, development, modernisation) in addition to the 130 km (80 miles) maintained by the City.
The canal is a major route for the flow of wildlife. Part of the ecological corridor, it is a key asset which Paris is striving to strengthen through the Biodiversity Action Plan.

Zebra Mussel

Tight-knit colonies of striped beige freshwater mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) cover the walls of the canal. They are a close relative of the sea mussel. These colonisers latch onto bikes, safes, bed frames, motorcycles and random items thrown into the canal, using a tuft of filaments known as byssal threads. These mussels feed on plants and microscopic animals floating in the water which they filter at a rate of several litres per hour. When the water level in the locks drops, they close up, “spitting out” the water. They provide a tasty meal for certain fish in the canal – roach, bream and eel – and for American crayfish. These molluscs were originally from Russia and entered French freshwater at the beginning of the 19th century. Very prolific and invasive, they can sometimes block the water ducts.


The millstone parapet at the end of the lower quay is home to spiders and ferns. This siliceous rock is as typical of subterranean Paris as are limestone and gypsum, and was used in Paris, especially in suburban areas for housing construction between 1880 and 1930. Its ?vacuolar? structure contains empty pockets giving it good insulating properties. These millstone houses decorated with ceramics, tiles, brick and wrought iron from the beginning of the Art Nouveau movement are part of the iconic heritage of the Île-de-France region.

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