Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Canal St. Martin

I've finished my video of the Canal Saint Martin. Its just a short video that shows the Port de l'Arsenal, the open market that is held above the canal twice a week, and some of the locks on the canal.

The Canal Saint-Martin is a barge canal that runs roughly north and south in Paris. At the southern end, it starts in a small pleasure harbor called the Port de Plaisance de Paris Arsenal. From there, it travels underground to roughly the level of the place de la République, at which point it reemerges into the light and passes through a series of locks that raise the water level substantially as the canal moves north. From there it passes into the Bassin de la Villette, a rectangular, man-made lake dating from the 19th century, and then it continues up to La Villette, a large park with a number of attractions. It extends beyond that outside the city, but I've never explored that part.

In my video I show the pleasure harbor first. Some of the boats there are really nice, but their size is constrained by the fact that they must be able to fit through the locks at either end of the harbor (there's one final set of locks at the south end that brings boats down to the level of the Seine River, into which the canal empties). There's a bridge that crosses the harbor and affords a nice view thereof, plus a park on the east side of the harbor, with a single restaurant that is usually crowded.

At the north end of this harbor, the canal disappears into a spooky tunnel that passes directly beneath the place de la Bastille. It continues underground for a considerable distance, with only a few round vents at ground level to light the way. Above the canal, on the surface, is a parkway, part of which becomes one of the largest open markets in Paris two days a week (I show this in the video, too). Eventually the canal comes back out into the open. There are multiple locks along the canal that always seem to fascinate me. About 30 boats a day pass through them on the way up or down the canal.

The canal isn't as important to commerce as it once was, and it was almost replaced by a freeway in the 1970s. Today it's a protected landmark. Although there is substantial traffic on the side streets bordering the canal, which prevents it from being completely peaceful, it's still a nice place for a stroll.

A lot of tourists don't know about the canal. I guess Rick Steves doesn't talk about it enough. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, except for the tourists who miss seeing it.

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