It is no mistake that most of the world’s largest cities are located along major rivers. As our ancestors explored new areas they settled along rivers which offered them food, water, transportation, trade and more.
The 2nd largest river in France is 482 miles long and traverses through some of the most wonderful French landscapes before reaching the English Channel. The Seine’s humble beginnings are about 19 miles northwest of Dijon deep in the Burgundian wine area. From here it meanders through or near Troyes, Fontainebleau, Paris, Giverny and Rouen before reaching the 6 mile wide estuary separating Le Havre and Honfleur.
Outside of the large cities, a journey along the Seine passes Gothic cathedrals, battlefield remnants of past wars, tiny hamlets, forests that were the playground of Kings and rolling countryside with superb scenery.
The Seine is navigable by ocean vessels 75 miles inland to Rouen, by commercial river boats to Burgundy and can be enjoyed for recreational purposes along most of the length.
A series of locks keep the Seine at an even depth of 9 ½ meters and helps avoid catastrophic floods like the one in 1910. However, even with these precautions, severe storms can cause the river to rise threatening villages, farmers and the billions of dollars of artwork located in Paris.
At times the Seine has been described by historians as an “open sewer”. Today the water quality has improved but the sewage system of Paris can experience failures during heavy rainfall allowing untreated sewage to seep into the river. Despite this, in 2009 the Atlantic salmon returned to the Seine!
Even though the Seine passes many villages and cities, it seems to be synonymous with the capital of France, Paris! Just about everywhere you turn in Paris is a reminder of the importance the river has played in the city today and yesterday. From the cathedral of Notre Dame to the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay and many other priceless wonders, history abounds near the river! So important is the Seine to Paris, that in 1991 both the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in Europe.
In Paris alone, there are 37 bridges that cross the river. The Pont Neuf, the oldest, dates back to 1607. I’m sure every visitor to Paris walks across at least one of these beautifully romantic bridges! Or even passes under them during a wonderful tour along the Seine.
The Seine has been the subject for many artists including Claude Monet. From his home in Giverny, Monet drew upon the Seine for his inspiration. Many of these important artworks can be seen in the cathedral at Rouen.
Rouen is another important city along the Seine. Not only famous for its display of artwork inspired by the Seine but for being the site of the execution of Joan of Arc whose ashes were said to be thrown into the Seine after her fiery death in 1431.
Finally at rivers end is the Seine estuary which is flanked on either side by Le Havre and Honfleur. Here is another of the many bridges spanning the Seine. Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, stretches between the two cities.
Although we tend to view the Seine as a tourist attraction, you can see that this river is still important to France today!