Paris and the Biévre!!!

Ok so this is a rather historical post , maybe long but  necessary to tell on my eternal Paris. We have heard the stories of this river and some are fascinating. I had worked assignment on 21 rue de Biévre  in the neighborhood or quartier of Saint-Victor in the 5éme district or arrondissement of Paris….. for quite some time and found out several years back about the Biévre river of Paris. Now there is some push to have it reopen into the open air, and it is interesting to know. The reason for this post, is the possibility of the Biévre river coming afloat again in Paris. Bear with the lecture please, I love history and when it comes to Paris….

The Bièvre river originates in Guyancourt (Yvelines dept 78) ; and which flows into the main collector of the Paris sewers. The Bièvre once flowed into the Seine river at the Gare d’Austerlitz train station after a 35 km route in the departments of Yvelines (78), Essonne (91), Hauts-de-Seine (92), Val-de-Marne (94) and Paris (75). The Bièvre rives rose in Guyancourt at an altitude of 150 meters, and it flows into the Seine river at the limit of the 5éme and 13éme arrondissements, at an altitude of 37 meters.

The Bièvre river, which was the second Parisian river, has been completely covered, in Paris since 1912, and in the suburb of Antony in Gentilly in the mid-1950s, except for short sections recently updated. Its course, from its source to the regional nature reserve of the Bièvre basin in Antony   (92) is, for the most part, in the open air. This stream perhaps takes its name from the Latin biber, bièvre, formerly designating the beaver, which disappeared in the 13C in this area, but beber also means: brown in color, like its waters. In 1787, the name of this river was Ruisseau des Gobelins or stream. Goblins were legendary, anthropomorphic and small creatures from medieval European folklore. However, rather than these legendary beings, the river owes its nickname to Jean Gobelin, a Flemish who settled on the banks of the Bièvre in 1443 and who was the first of a long dynasty of dyers who created the Manufacture des Gobelins district.

The Biévre river ran thru the Yvelines at Guyancourt, Buc, Les Loges-en-Josas, Jouy-en-Josas, and finally in Paris: the 5éme, 13éme, and 14éme arrondissements, at the limit of which is the confluence with the Seine river, on the left bank (rive gauche)of it. In all, the Bièvre crosses 15 towns such as  Guyancourt, Buc, Les Loges-en-Josas, Jouy-en-Josas, Bièvres, Igny, Massy, Verrières-le-Buisson, Antony, Fresnes, L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Cachan, Arcueil , Gentilly, and enters Paris at the Poplars postern between the old bastions nos. 85 and 86 of the old Thiers enclosure. The upstream course that has disappeared from the Bièvre is enhanced in Montigny-le-Bretonneux,(78) the urban center of the new town of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines , built in the 1980s. The source of the Bièvre, the urban canal, the Church of Saint-Quentin des Sources and the square of the sources are an evocation of this. At the corner of avenue des Prés (nice ride sorry memories) and rue des Coquelicots in Montigny-le-Bretonneux near the Paris-Rambouillet railway line, the source is symbolically materialized by a disc 25 meters in diameter designed in 1992. Only the pond of Minière, the least extensive of the three, had been created in 1688 by Colbert to participate in the water supply of the Palace of Versailles .Downstream of the pond of Val d’Or, the Bièvre passes under the D 91 road (yes!!) then next to a wastewater treatment plant and runs through the national forest of Versailles. The Bièvre leaves the territory of the town of Guyancourt in the forest 600 meters downstream from the pond of Val d’Or and feeds the pond of Geneste dug in 1948 to protect the town of Buc (right next to Versailles) from flooding.

The Bièvre flows downstream from the Vauptain mill, the single arm flanked by the hiking trail splits shortly before it passes under the Route de Petit-Jouy road at Loges-en-Josas where the missing town’s washhouse was located. Arriving from Loges-en-Josas, the Bièvre enters the territory of Jouy divided into two branches. the natural branch to the north which runs through the Bas Prés park runs along Avenue Jean-Jaurès passing near the train station.   Then ,going to Paris it raised an artificial arm which passes under the railway line then under the Pont d’Austerlitz bridge built in 1805 by virtue of an imperial decree signed by Napoleon during the battle of Austerlitz to establish the route des Lodges. This arm which actuated the wheel of the Saint-Martin mill at the corner of the route des Loges and the rue de la Liberation then widens into a large dug along the rue de la Liberation on the other side of the domain of the castle, currently campus of HEC (One of France most prestigious grande écoles or colleges).

Since the valley has been backfilled to a variable depth that can reach nearly 20 meters in the south of the 13éme arrondissement of Paris, the traces of the river are rather tenuous (and no photos tant pis!).   As in Buc (78), the Bièvre was divided in Paris into two arms, the dead Bièvre, its original course, and the live Bièvre, a raised arm parallel to the east which operated the wheel of several mills. The two arms which separated at Gentilly upstream of Paris, joined in a single arm near the Saint-Médard Church in the 5éme arrondissement. The Bièvre river enters the territory of the city of Paris under the Kellermann park which was located outside the fortified enclosure of Thiers in the former park of the Lazarists depending on a religious community and then forming part of the non construction zone after the construction in 1844 of the enclosure of Thiers. This part of the town of Gentilly was not annexed to Paris until 1925. The Kellermann Park, built in 1937, has removed traces of the old river course from the town boundary with Gentilly to rue du Docteur-Leray in the 13éme arrondissement, successively under the ring road, Kellermann park, boulevard Kellermann, the Petite Ceinture and rue de l’Interne- Loeb. Beyond, the route of this sewer deviates from that of the old river. The Biévre river ran along rue du Moulin-des-Prés on the even side, passed under rue de Tolbiac forming a loop north of this street returning to the corner of rue Bobillot. After the creation of the rue de Tolbiac in 1875, the loop was removed and replaced by a bypass which ran along this street, below to the south,under the current Square des Peupliers.

After acquisition by Paris in 1881 and destruction of the Moulin des Prés, the diversion along the rue de Tolbiac was replaced by a sewer, the Pascal collector, under the rue du Docteur-Leray and the rue de la Colonie, extending into the rue Vergniaud, rue Vulpian, rue Pascal and rue Censier. Before its suppression in 1881 in this part of the 13éme arrondissement, the Bièvre river live formed a second meander to the south of the rue de Tolbiac then from the rue de la Colonie to the corner of the rue Auguste-Lançon and the rue Boussingault and then went north parallel to the current rue Vergniaud. This branch crossed the current rue Daviel at no 13. The bottom of the valley was backfilled by 14 meters during the 1880s which reduced the slope between rue Vergniaud and rue Barrault from 40% to 10% and thus allowed the extension to the Butte-aux-Cailles ,the rue Daviel, previously limited to the edge of the sharp arm. The old filled bed is occupied by gardens and outbuildings at the back of large buildings on the odd-numbered side of rue Vergniaud.

The two arms of the living and dead Bièvre river were very close under the present boulevard Auguste-Blanqui, formerly boulevard d’Italie. This boulevard was the old wall of the Fermiers-Généraux under which the first underground passages of the Bièvre, a double water postern, were built in 1784. The Cité Florale between the streets Brillat-Savarin, Auguste-Lançon and Boussingault was built on a dry pond. The passage of the sharp arm of the Bièvre is visible at 12 boulevard Arago through a low private access door, between two buildings. The open space between the buildings leads to Boulevard de Port-Royal at the cinéma Escurial . The passage de la Bièvre live under the Boulevard de Port-Royal on the side opposite the cinema Escurial is marked by a gap between the buildings at no. 12bis and no. 14 giving a view of the former reach Valence behind the rue Valence. The Biévre river branched off to the left at the location of avenue des Gobelins and flowed in front of no. 4 and no. 2. The entrances to the Pascal reach of the dead arm are visible through gaps at no. 28 on the boulevard de Port-Royal , at the other end, rue Pascal at the corner of rue Claude-Bernard. The wall built in the middle of the riverbed when it was covered in 1905 still exists, delimiting the riverside properties. Contrary to what the medallions on the ground on rue Pascal indicate under the boulevard de Port-Royal bridge and further on the sidewalk of even numbers, the Bièvre river did not pass under the street but behind the buildings and did not cross it on the corner with rue Claude-Bernard. The rue de la Clef, rue du Pont-aux-Biches on this section before 1868, crossed the river by the pont aux Biches which is manifested by a slight bulge. The university buildings between rue de la Clef and rue de Santeuil took the place of the Halle aux cuirs or leather’s hall opened in 1866 and destroyed by fire in 1906. Further downstream, the wall along the access road to the underground garage at 25 rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire is the one built in the bed of the river when it was backfilled in 1904.

After rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, the Biévre river flowed between rue Poliveau and rue Buffon in the courtyard of the maison Sœur Rosalie (Sister Rosalie house currently private schools and high school) then in an area dependent from 1779 on the National Museum of Natural History (which in the time was the Jardin du Roi or King’s Garden). The curve of rue Nicolas-Houël opened in dead end in 1902 (the Museum having opposed the creation of a public road up to rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire) corresponds to the last bend of the river which then passed under Boulevard de l’Hôpital and Gare d’Austerlitz to flow into the Seine between the metro viaduct and the Charles-de-Gaulle bridge. After passing under Boulevard de l’Hôpital, the Bièvre river was divided into several arms surrounding one or more islets depending on the period and received the open sewer of the Salpêtrière, the hospital’s pollution spillway.

A bit of the history of the river I like

In the Neolithic period, the course of the Bièvre river corresponded to between the Pont d’Austerlitz bridge and the Pont de l’Alma bridge, to that of the current Seine river. During successive floods, the Seine would have captured the old course of the Bièvre from the Pont d’Austerlitz to the Pont de l’Alma. The two rivers would have swept the silt that separated them between the current train stations of Lyon and Austerlitz and the arm of the Seine to the east of the current neighborhood of the Marais was gradually filled. The current confluence of the Bièvre and the Seine was thus formed east of the Sainte-Geneviève mountain in a delta marsh between two arms of the Bièvre leading to the location of the current bridges of the Archdiocese and Austerlitz. . After wandering, the confluence would have been established upstream of the Austerlitz bridge. In the 12C, coming from Saint-Médard, the Bièvre crossed the faubourg Saint-Marcel and the lands of the abbey of Sainte-Geneviève, meanders in the middle of marshes (between the current rue Poliveau and Buffon) and flows into the Seine near the Austerlitz bridge. In the 16C, on the night of April 8 to 9, 1579, a brutal flood of the Bièvre, later qualified as the “deluge of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel”, swept away twelve buildings, drowned dozens of inhabitants surprised in their sleep, and damaged seriously the domain of Nicolas Houël, herbalist, pharmacist and philanthropist. During this flood, the water rose 4 to 5 meters, reaching the second floor of the houses. And we talk about climate change now !!

paris metro line 5 over viaduc d austerlitz feb16

At the very gates of Paris at the time, on the lands of Alez, near its natural mouth in the Seine, the Bièvre was diverted in the 12C from its natural course by a canal dug to supply the old Saint-Victor abbey. The diversion was located at the Didier bridge where a dam was built on the site of an outbuilding that the National Museum of Natural History has owned since the 18C between rue Poliveau and rue Buffon. The canal followed the Jeannel alley of the clos Patouillet , the Becquerel alley and the alpine garden in the Jardin des Plantes, passed under the culvert of rue du Ponceau (later rue de Seine, now rue Cuvier), then followed the western ditch of the Jussieu university campus to rue du Cardinal-Lemoine. The Arch of the enclosure of Philippe Auguste allowed it to cross the wall. It still exists (visit one Wednesday a month) under the post office located at the corner of rue des Écoles, at under 10 meters, altitude 17 meters, which gives an idea of the erosion of the Sainte-Geneviève mountain in five centuries. In 1356, Etienne Marcel had a ditch dug along the walls of Philippe-Auguste to the Seine which was doubled a few years later by a second larger ditch as part of the work ordered by Charles V for the fortifications of Paris. These ditches absorbing water from the intramural Victorins canal, the monks were authorized to build a new canal parallel to them as far as the Saint-Bernard gate. Its route was located east of rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard, the mouth where the Aletz mill was located near the Saint-Bernard gate, currently at the site of the Institut du Monde Arabe!.

The drained intramural Victorins canal became a receptacle for refuse and was then gradually filled up until the 17C. Until the integration in 1724 of the faubourg Saint-Marcel into Paris, the course of the Bièvre river was outside Paris. The banks of the Bièvre experienced an influx of industrial activities. The tanners expelled from the surroundings of the Place de Grève ( today Place de l’Hotel-de-Ville) by a royal edict of February 1672 settled in the Faubourg Saint-Marcel, joining the dyers. The former saw the river as a sewer, while the dyers needed pure water. We can see a stone engraved on the wall of the Manufacture des Gobelins 8 rue Berbier-du-Mets .The Biévre river gave rise to complaints and recriminations against the pestilences of slaughterhouses, hospitals, sewers, tanners,and other dyers, all of whom complained in turn about the mills causing frequent interruptions of flow on such a shallow slope. The Paris City Council decided in 1826 to channel the Bièvre. The work started in 1828 was completed in 1844. The 3.6 meters wide masonry canal with 2 meters high piers was bordered by 4 meters wide banks of free access except in the ruelle des Gobelins (current rue Berbier-du-Mets) where their width was limited to 1.5 meters. The pipeline channel did little to improve the situation, as the riverside establishments continued to dump their waste, adding to the wastewater from neighboring streets.

The Bièvre river enters Paris between the Porte d’Italie and Porte de Gentilly crosses by several arms, which are only infected streams, the faubourgs Saint-Marcel and Saint-Victor, and ends in the form of a covered sewer on the quai de l ‘Hospital. This river feeds many tanneries, laundries, dyehouses and, among others, the famous Manufacture des Gobelins factory. Although the width of the Bièvre does not exceed 3 meters, this river was formidable by its floods. Haussmann and Belgrand noted as early as 1860 that the only possible solution was to suppress the Bièvre in the open air. The covering of it lasted for fifty years, encountering a lot of opposition and requiring costly expropriations. The last reaches still in the open air in intra-muros Paris, Croulebarde, Glacière and Valence under the homonymous streets were covered in 1912.

And after this long historically recount that I love to tell you and thanks for bearing with me, the main reason of this post comes to this info.

A project for the rebirth of the Bièvre river is supported by many actors, associations, in particular by the association Amis de la Vallée de la Bièvre and by planning unions bringing together the communities concerned, the Mixed Syndicate of the Bièvre watershed SMBVB for the whole valley and SIAVB for the upstream part. The realization of these developments began in 2008. The Kellerman Park was remodeled in order to become a lagoon by its organization and the water plants which are arranged there, and in which one finds in a spontaneous way mallards and herons. A body of water was created in 2015 in the 13éme arrondissement in the Jardin Charles-Trenet garden on the edge of the Rungis train station eco-district in memory of the nearby passage de la Bièvre. Every year in the spring, a Bièvre walk is organized from the Seine river with the departure from the square of Notre-Dame at midnight to the source in Guyancourt with 4 trails. The one I have friends telling me about is the marche Nordique or Nordic walking of 11 km departure from Versailles at 8h.

Some webpages to help you understand the above even if in French….

The marches or walks of the Biévre

The Biévre Friends organisation on history and more!

The Project to restore the Biévre in Paris SMBVB

The Project to restore the Biévre outside Paris SIAVB:

So there you go maybe one day a historical river of Paris will see the light again, and that I am totally in favor of. Looking forward to the event, follow my posts. The Biévre is the living history of Paris somehow hidden under its streets. Hope you enjoy the post as I did telling you.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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