La Seine, immortalized by artists and adored by lovers dangling their feet over the quay, harbours a dark secret.
Under the fifth and thirteenth arrondissements grumbles la Bièvre, the Seine’s younger sibling who was banished to the netherworld exactly one hundred and one years ago.
Starting thirty-three kilometers away in the Yvelines and feeding into the Seine at Gare d’Austerlitz, the Bièvre was once a vibrant river that attracted people way back in the Neolithic period. It was eventually named after the beavers that lived on its banks (derived from the Gaul bèbros).
In the beginning, the Bièvre followed the course that the Seine follows now. The Seine was originally where Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards are today (and also avenue Matignon and avenue Montaigne). Due to successive floods, the Seine usurped the course of the Bièvre. Yet the greatest changes to the vanquished river are due to man.
“I remember the Bièvre . . . above all from the night when I slept at my Aunt’s friend’s place, and I heard the noise of the Bièvre because her house was divided by it. The Bièvre was very nice because it was extremely lively. Many people worked there; we could take walks alongside it. It was a nice part of Gentilly. I was very disappointed when they covered it up. I didn’t understand. If it reopens, that would be very good … And when I go to the little bridge—it still exists— I stop and I listen to the Bièvre. I still hear it. So I stop, and I listen.”