Some believe the Seine’s cleanup will also spur similar projects elsewhere. “The Seine River is maybe the most romanticized river in history, in literature,” says Dan Angelescu,
For residents of southeast Paris, the construction vehicles rumbling back and forth behind the Austerlitz train station are a loud annoyance that has gone on for too many months. But for city officials—and countless Parisians, they hope—history is unfolding behind the cordoned-off area. After years of thwarted ambitions and vague promises, the French capital, officials say, is set to accomplish a rare feat for a major metropolis: making its once heavily polluted waterway fit for swimming again.
In February, city officials invited TIME to pass through the metal turnstile behind the cordon, and see up close the cleanup of the Seine—one of the world’s most iconic rivers—which stretches for 481 miles, from Burgundy through Paris out to the sea in Normandy. Indeed, the river has defined Paris since it was founded by ancient Romans. It was along these riverbanks that merchants in the Middle Ages first set up, creating a settlement that finally dwarfed once bigger rivals like Lyon and Marseilles. And it was on the banks, too, that the world’s finest architects constructed the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Louvre and Orsay museums—stunning monuments that draw millions of visitors each year to sail down the narrow stretch of the Seine that cuts through the dead center of Paris. Officials are therefore keenly aware of the deeper significance of cleaning up the Seine, seeing it as a way of connecting the modern city to its oldest history. “The Seine,” says Emmanuel Grégoire, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of urban planning, “is the reason why Paris was born.”
Once the €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) project is finished—by next spring, if all goes to plan—Parisians will be legally allowed to swim in the river for the first time in a century. (Authorities banned it in 1923 because of high levels of pollution.) “Swimming at the foot of the Eiffel Tower will be very romantic,” Grégoire says, before guiding TIME underground into the giant—and decidedly unromantic—rainwater storage tank, crucial to cleaning the Seine.
In recent years, smaller European cities, like Zurich, Munich, and Copenhagen, have opened urban swimming. There are also efforts under way to make swimming possible in Berlin’s Spree River and Amsterdam’s canals, with frequent meetings among cities to discuss what is required. Yet Grégoire is keen to point out that making the Seine swimmable could mean Paris becoming the world’s first giant …read more
Source:: Time – World