The iconic river Seine in Paris, lined with second-hand bookstalls and terraced cafes, is often described as ‘the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves’. These banks are so unique that they were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1991 and so, it only makes sense that the river within be kept clean and preserved.
Unfortunately, the current state of the river is not conducive to swimming – it’s so dirty that swimming is actually banned for health reasons. Célia Blauel, responsible for environment and water policy in Paris, warned Le Figaro newspaper that anyone who disobeys this rule risks ‘a nice dose of gastro and a nice big fine’. The river is thought to be polluted with E. coli bacteria, intestinal bacteria, natural pollutants and faecal matter, to name just a number of the risks.
However, this is all set to change over the next five years as the Seine gears up to undergo an epic €1 billion cleanup operation. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised that the river will be clean enough to swim in by 2024, which would mark the first time since it was banned almost a century ago.
The promise comes ahead of the city being chosen to host the Olympics in 2024. After three failed attempts to host this epic historic event, and finally being awarded the Olympic Games it deserves, it’s safe to say that Paris is pulling out all the stops for the event. If it’s completed in time, the plan is that the river will be clean enough to host certain triathlon and swimming competitions.
The Seine cleanup was announced in the French media along with a few other exciting Olympic projects, including a riverside tramway, cycle tracks out to suburban Olympic venues and a ramblers’ path beyond the Boulevard Périphérique.
While the plans to clean up the river Seine might seem ambitious, Paris wouldn’t be the first place to realise a project of this scale. Both Copenhagen and Zurich have cleaned up their waters, creating a harbour and a lake, respectively, which are now perfectly safe to swim in.
The Seine might not be clean enough to bathe in for another five years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a spot of urban swimming in the city this summer. The picturesque canal known as the Bassin de la Villette (near metro Jaurès/Stalingrad), in the 19th arrondissement, is a hotspot filled with activities in the summer. Open every day from June 16 to September 9, 2018 (except August 15) between 11 am and 9 pm, there will be a free swimming area where you can paddle to cool down from the sweltering Parisian heat. It’s a great taste of the fun to come.