Map detailed intinerary stroll along Seine River

The river, today one of the most beautiful avenues of Paris, was especially vital in the past, as shown by the coat of arms of the city. It represents a sailing ship with the motto: Fluctuat nec mergitur (she is tossed by the waves, but does not sink). This alliance made with the river is very old, as proved by the  pirogues discovered in Bercy district. They were built in the 4th millennium BC and can be seen at the Carnavalet museum.
The Pillar of the Boatmen (pilier des Nautes) testifies as well how much powerful was the guild of the boatmen, also merchants travelling upstream and downstream Lutecia. This votive monument was discovered below Notre-Dame cathedral and is now displayed in the Cluny museum. Boatmen played a major role in the development of Lutetia, chief settlement of the Parisii, and becoming Paris in the 5thcentury.

Atget's photos show how much active were the riverbanks with ships, floating cranes, tugboats and also small trades like mattress carders and dog shearers. Riverbanks so much different with the ones today, where many barges are now equipped to drink, eat and dance. Equipped for the pleasure of homo festivus, a new species invented by the French essayist Philippe Muray, observing our modern world with criticism. Whatever, walking along the Seine river from Pont Mirabeau to Pont Marie will give the opportunity to admire many architectural masterpieces in a superb set of the Seine...

Mattress carders Seine Bnaks Atget

Mattress Carders
Seine banks

Atget – 1900
(Musée Carnavalet)

Dog shearers Atget

Dog shearers


Mirabeau Bridge is also a poem written by  Guillaume Apollinaire in 1912 when his love affair with MarieLaurencin ended.
He was living not far, in the 16th district,  which was very different from the one that we know today, as per the description in his book A Stroller along Both Banks (Le Flâneur des deux rives). At the beginning of the 20th century, the district of Auteuil was quite picturesque; probably close to the one known  also by the writer Balzac when he settled in rue Raynouard in 1840.  Apollinaire depicts Auteuil with some melancholy due to his sad love affair and because of the First World War.  During the war, he  got a shell splinter in the head and had to undergo a trepanning in Auteuil in May 1916 at the clinic Villa Molière.
(I get goose bumps, I was born in that same clinic which no longer exists ... and aside my desk is a lithograph of MarieLaurencin ...).

The bridge is an allegory of Paris and of the river. The four statues represent the City of Paris, Navigation, Commerce and Abundance.

 Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine

And all our loves

Why does it make so plain

That any joy must always follow pain


Let the night come the hour sound clear

The days all pass I’m still here


Our hands intertwined let’s stay face to face

While far below

The bridge of our arms strays

The languid wave of each endless gaze


Let the night come the hour sound clear

The days all pass I’m still here


Our love drifts away like these waters flow

Love drifts away

And our lives are so slow

With Hope more violent than we could know


Let the night come the hour sound clear

The days all pass I’m still here.


The days and weeks pass in a ceaseless train

But no past time

Or past love comes again

Under the Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine


Let the night come the hour sound clear

The days all pass I’m still here.

The Mirabeau Bridge - Guillaume Apollinaire (Alcools)

Brige Pont Mirabeau statue Abundance

Let’s now continue along port de Javel towards pont de Grenelle.

Port de Javel / Quai André Citroën/ Ile aux Cygnes

Parc and quai André Citroën are named after the former car factory where Tractions, 2CVs and DS were manufactured between 1919 and 1976.
Prior to the Citroën factory, in the same neighborhood, there was a chemical factory producing bleach (eau de Javel) since 1777.
Besides these names, nothing is left from the intensive industrial activity in this district. Difficult to imagine that just after pont de Grenelle, the Jean-François Cail plant was producing railway locomotives and other equipment. The plant was later replaced in 1909 by the Vel' d'Hiv', an indoor velodrome, of sinister memory with the mass arrest of Jews in July 1942. It was demolished in 1959.

Today, the towers of Front de Seine have replaced the industrial plants, the houses and the slum where lived the Citroën foreign workers. One can get an idea of the atmosphere at that time with the novel by Leo Malet, master of crime fiction in post war Paris. (Unfortunately, Les Eaux Troubles de Javel, the tenth book of his New Mysteries of Paris has not been translated in English).
On top of giving the atmosphere of that time, the book also learned me the origin of the name Citroën. Roelof Jacob, a seller of lemons was André Citroën's grandfather. With the Napoleonic code civil to be applied in Holland when Napoleon took over this country in 1810, Roelof, as an askenazi jew, had to choose a name. He chose quite naturally Citroen which means lemon in dutch ...

We have arrived on Pont de Grenelle. There is a small version of the Statue of Liberty, of course turned towards the United States. Let's go down to the island and walk along Allée des Cygnes (Alley of Swans). This is an artificial island, a former breakwater built to protect the port ofGrenelle. It is nice and quiet: have a sit on a bench and enjoy the view of the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, the ducks among the waterlilies ... and the many trees along the pathway.

Pont de Grenelle Statue of Liberty
Pont de Grenelle Statue of Liberty
Allée des Cygnes Seine

Arrived at the end of the island, we reach the pont de Bir-Hakeim, full with tourists going to the Eiffel Tower and with girls photographed at the foot of the pillars. The bridge is quite captivating, even more the night with its lamps all lit and the aerial metro.
Let's now walk on the right bank along the
Trocadero gardens. Between Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower, the pont d'Iena is packed with tourists and street vendors.

Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Next is the pont de l'Alma with its famous zouave, now the reference when the Seine is flooded. The Zouave, more commonly known as the Zouzou, is left alone. When the bridge was completely rebuilt, the three other statues where removed: The skirmisher is now in Vincennes, the grenadier in Dijon and the artilleryman at la Fère.


When Atget photographed the landing stage of bateau mouche in 1900, these water buses were only used as simple means of transport. These boats were already used since 1862 by the city of Lyon where they were manufactured. Their name Mouche (fly) has nothing to do with the insect.  It comes from the  name of the district of Lyon were they were manufactured. They became operational in Paris for the  1867 Exhibition. Thirty boats , specifically ordered for the event were routed to Paris via the Saone river, the Burgundy canal,  the Yonne and finally the Seine river. After the Exhibition, they were kept to be used as simple means of transport.

Quai de Paris vers Chaillot landing stage of bateau mouche Atget

Quai de Paris Chaillot
Landing stage of bateau mouche
Atget – 1898/1900

Bateaux Mouches

The one who was able to fly high is Jean Bruel! After the World War II, he had the fabulous idea to buy one of the last original bateaux mouches. He registered the trademark Bateaux-Mouches and invented the concept of Seine boat-tours via the most beautiful avenuein Paris...

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

The 1867 Exhibition let us indirectly the Bateaux-Mouches,
the 1889 Exhibition let us the symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower.
The 1900 Exhibition let splendid Art Nouveau buildings, such as:
the Grand Palais, easily recognisable by its large glass and metal roof.
The Petit Palais, an other architecture jewel with the Museum of Fine Arts (Go there, the admission to the permanent collection is free! And the Café is located in a charming garden).

And in the same axis of these buildings, the pont Alexandre III, in honour of Nicolas II’s father.

This bridge is one of my favorite. It is so refined, down to the finest detail: the grace of the movement outlined by the statues, the smooth line of the street lamps marking the bridge curvature, the glass reeds seemingly caught by the Russian winter freeze. An impressive airy work of art leading us to forget the technical achievement of this single arch bridge.
The extreme pressure exerted by the low single arch metal bridge required construction of massive stone abutments. Today a night club can be found in the right bank abutment, as well a restaurant with a terrace in the left bank abutment.

Port des Invalides Pont Alexandre III Left Bank Atget

Port des Invalides - Pont Alexandre III
Left bank
Atget – 1913
(Ville de Paris – BHVP)

Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III
Pont Alexandre III love locks

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old one, I want to claim for a movement of cutting away the love locks. To me they rather sound symbols of insane possessive love, on top of degrading the bridges. The ones found at pont Alexandre III are especially heart breaking to me!

Let's cross the bridge toward the left bank and walk along quai d’Orsay towards pont de la Concorde.

Port des Invalides

Port des Invalides rusted winch

Atget’s photos show active banks and quays. Today if some barges can still be seen in the middle of boats crowded with tourists, the quays are now used  for leisure and by restaurant terraces. Only some rusted winch leftover are reminding us the former activity of Parisian ports.

Floating crane port des Invalides Pont de la Concode Atget

Floating crane
Port des Invalides, pont de la Concorde
Atget - 1913
(Musée Carnavalet)

Port des Invalides Pont de la Concorde

We are now walking towards pont de la Concorde, built during the French Revolution partially with stones of the Bastille prison.

From quai d’Orsay, we can see on the right the Hôtel des Invalides. Under  the golden dome are the remains of Napoleon. A little bit further on the left, we now can see Place de la Concorde.

Port de Solférino - Piscine Deligny

Boat wash and public bath facilities could also be seen along the active ports.
The famous Deligny floating swimming pool could be seen along quai Anatole France until it sank into the river in 1993. In 1785, there was a public bath facility, where later in 1801 Deligny was teaching swimming lessons. Then the public bath was replaced later by a floating swimming pool built over twelve barges. These barges were initally used in 1840 to bring back the Napoleon's ashes from  from Rouen where they arrived from Sainte-Hélène.
During the 20th century, the swimming pool equipped with a solarium and a bar restaurant was quite trendy. It was also quite a source of scandal when the first sunbath topless could be seen right in front of the National Assembly.
In 1993, after been hit by a barge, the swimming pool sank to the bottom of the river in less than one hour.

Bath pont de la Concorde Port de Solferino Atget

Bath Pont de la Concorde
Port de Solférino
(Musée Carnavalet)

Pont de la Concorde

We are now at the foot of the Orsay Museum, installed in the former station of Paris-Orleans railway. Hopefully this 1900 beautiful building, a perfect blend of metal structure and cut stone, was saved from destruction. Under the high glass ceiling, the platforms were replaced by a central nave with sculptures  that take us today on a different journey, one of the European art from mid 19th to beginning of 20th.

Quai Voltaire - Booksellers

We are now quai Voltaire, quite a symbol of literature. Not only because many writers lived there, starting with Voltaire. This is also where we start to see the bouquinistes‘ dark green bookstalls.These second-hand booksellers form a long and picturesque line between quai Voltaire and quai de la Tournelle on the left bank and between Pont-Neuf and Pont Marie on the right bank.
The book lovers will find history books, editions of classical texts and nice editions like la Pléiade on the left bank. On the other bank, they will find comic books near la Mégisserie, books on movies on quai de Gesvre and thrillers around Hôtel de Ville.

Booksellers quai Voltaire Atget

Booksellers – Quai Voltaire
Atget - 1898

Booksellers quai Voltaire

We have now arrived near pont des Arts which links the Louvre and the Institute of France.

Quai de Conti - Pont des Arts

Here I start singing Matthieu Chedid’s song:

On the Pont des Arts,
My heart is shaky,
Just below the surface,
The air is so good,

This air so fresh,
I take it in,
Our reflections perched,
Upon this bridge,

We love like that, the Seine and I

Though I cannot be sure that the air is so good and so fresh, I definitively love the place! One's heart can be really shaky in front of the beautiful view on all sides. I like the view over Pont-Neuf embracing the Ile de la Cité.

The metal footbridge of Pont des Arts shown on Atget's photo was almost identically rebuilt in 1984 after it collapsed in 1979.

Love can be heavy... More than 40 tons of love locks fastened to Pont des Arts were cutoff in 2015! Love is now transparent with the new padlock-proof glass panels installed on the bridge... but love is obstinate and love locks still appear here and there ...

Quai de Conti Berges de la Seine Atget

Quai de Conti
Berges de la Seine
Atget – 1899/1900

Pont des Arts quai de Conti

I saw once a fisherman, like the ones on Atget's photo; but he was simply acting... The spot is very popular with the filmmakers. 

Pont-Neuf - Port de Conti

I always enjoy looking at the stone heads, all different, along the parapet of the oldest bridge in Paris: heads of satyrs, fauns and divinities ... heads of visitors from the past, with grinning and smirking faces at our new restless world.

In 1550 when it was planned to connect the Louvre district with the faubourg Saint-Germain., already four bridges were linking IIe de la Cité with the two banks. Though king Henri III laid the first stone in 1578, the bridge was not completed until 1606 due to the French wars of religion and to the lack of treasury. This new bridge, the largest and the longest of its time was also the first bridge to be houseless and to get the first pavements in Paris.

Soon, the bridge attracted all kinds of people like merchants, jugglers, pickpockets, people selling universal panaceas and other ointments, tooth pullers ... It also attracted peddlers selling books and pamphlets, the ancestors of bouquinistes.

Pont-Neuf Port de Conti Atget

Pont Neuf
Port de Conti
Atget – 1911
(Musée Carnavalet)

Pont-Neuf Port de Conti Atget

Compared with the photo taken by Atget, no change; and an artist is still standing at the foot of the bridge, drawing in situ the beautiful view.

Pont-Neuf - Quai des Grands Augustins

The famous restaurant Lapérouse , at nr 51,quai des Grands Augustins, has been a legendary place for a long time. A beautiful mansion for upper class people. Compared to prices rather sky high, the ceilings are low; Men wearing a top hat were frequently banging their head against the low door's frame. They were banging their head (se taper la tête) and have a good meal. In old French slang, la cloche is the head. And this gave the old French expression se taper la cloche meaning to have a nice diner...
In the late 19th century, this was also a preferred place for the illegitimate affairs ... this could be done with the utmost discretion in the private salons. There are still these small private dining rooms upstairs, where the waiters knock at the door before entering, as other than food could be consumed ...The scratched-on mirrors keep also the memory of the women testing the authenticity of the diamonds received from their lovers ...

Pont-Neuf quai des Grands Augustins Atget

Quai des Grands Augustins
(Musée Carnavalet)

Pont Neuf quai des Grands Augustins

Pont-Neuf - Vert Galant

Vert-Galant south side towards pont des Arts Atget


South side towards pont des Arts

Atget - 1910
(Musée Carnavalet)

Vert-Galant Pont-Neuf
Vert-Galant pont des Arts
Berges du Vert Galant nort side towards Pont Neuf Atget

Berges du Vert Galant

North side towards Pont-Neuf
Atget – 1910
(Musée Carnavalet)

Pont-Neuf - Place Dauphine

Initially, this square initiated by King Henri IV was a triangle of thirty two identical town houses. The sense of architectural harmony with all the same houses built in stone and brick was later altered by the uncontrolled addition of new floors. The two pavilions that are facing the Pont Neuf can provide an idea of this harmony, looking similar to Place des Vosges, also initiated by King Henri IV.

It was especially modified in 1874 with the destruction of the houses along rue Harlay, in order to clear the space in front of the Court. 

Pont-Neuf Place Dauphine Atget

Pont Neuf - Place Dauphine
Atget – 1925
(Wikimedia Commons – Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Place Dauphine

With the development of the quays, it is now possible to walk along the Seine river almost continuously between Austerlitz and quai de Javel.The event of Paris Plage is organised during the summer months by the City Hall of Paris, offering several beaches, the most popular one being near Hôtel de Ville (City Hall). That you can enjoy or – avoid - depending on your mood!

Whatsoever, it is always very nice to walk along the river in all seasons. All along the banks, the many fabulous views are enhanced by the natural sky light, always beautiful. The light over the river is either softened or filtered by grey weather or stunning under a blue sky. The city will look like a Magritte's painting when the sky is blue with chubby white clouds. When it is cloudy, even stormy, the city will look even more impressive. Paris looks even better with a storm light than below a blue sky per Sylvain Tesson in his book about Cathedral Notre-Dame.

Vert Galant garden young poet in a treeitting

At the end of the Ile de la Cité, there is a small garden, the Vert Galant garden, crossed over by the Pont Neuf bridge. Vert Galant (Green Gallant – old man still chasing women) was the nickname of King Henri IV, which statue is facing the place Dauphine.

This small garden was the favorite meeting place of the hippies in the 70s where they were sharing their mystical orientation, ideas of freedom, experimentation in music and in artificial paradises.

It is nowadays a quiet and romantic place. Once I saw a young poet, at the far end of the island. Sitting on a branch of a weeping willow to get from this green haven a good source of inspiration.

This is not far from the right pavilion that Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar was burnt. While he was dying, he cried and cursed the Pope and several generations of French kings:

“Pope Clement! Chevalier Guillaume! King Philip! Before the end of the year, you will receive from God your just punishment! Accursed! Accursed! You will be all accursed till the thirteenth generation of your race!” – Maurice Druon – The Accursed Kings (Les Rois Maudits).

Let's put aside this sad episode in the French history and let's go towards the right pavilion, where there is a nice shop recommended to me by my friend Kim. Still managed by the family Jeanne Danjou Rousselet, jeweler since 1920, the shop offers very nice creations all done from vintage jewelry features at an affordable price. A very good address, 100% made in France!

Jewelry shop Place Dauphine Jeanne d'Anjou

Now let's follow quai de l'Horloge along the courthouse.

Quai de la Corse - Flower Market

We are now walking along the Court of Cassation, still there, while the rest of the Law Court was moved to the Batignolles district in the new Renzo Piano building.

We reach the Conciergerie with three turrets topped by conical roofs.
The first one with a crenellated walkway is the oldest. It has the name of Bonbec tower. Rather than evoking a treat (bonbec in French is a candy), it sounds more like a bad dark sense of humour; the word Bonbec, meaning here gift of gab was given to remind that people were tortured in this tower until they talked and confessed.
The next twin towers date from the time of King Philip the Fair (Philippe le Bel): The Silver tower (Tour d'argent) where the royal treasury was kept and the Ceasar tower built on Roman foundations. Three Gothic rooms still remain from the medieval palace where lived the Capetian kings. The palace became a prison when King Charles V rather took residence at the Hôtel Saint-Pol.
The Conciergerie, nowadays a Museum, tells about prisoners during French Revolution, like Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre.

In the fourth tower, the Clock Tower (la Tour de l'Horloge) there is still the oldest clock in Paris, completely restored in 2011. However, the bell is not the original one, which was melted during the French Revolution. The first bell was used during the night of August 23 to 24, 1572 together with the bell of Saint-Germain l' Auxerrois as signal for the massacre of Huguenots (known as the Saint Bartholomew's day).

Flower market Atget

Flower Market
Atget – 1898/1900

Flower Market Conciergerie

The Flower market located place Louis Lépine is also along the Seine on quai de la Corse. Each time I go there I feel more and more saddened by the small green stalls designed by Eiffel becoming more and more run down. What is the future of this still charming flower market? This question on the current state of the market takes me back to my childhood with such a nostalgic feeling. Question which resonates with the name of the philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch who lived at 1, quai aux Fleurs.  Much of his work is about the fleeting time, the irreversible time of history, the relationships to the past and the necessity to fully live the present time. The oscillation of the time takes all its meaning with Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Quai de la Tournelle

Notre-Dame de Paris was so familiar to me that I was led to believe it eternal, resilient enough to overcome human and natural ills. It was such a comforting view.

And then, on April 15th, 2019, the attic known as the “forest” collapsed. The attic made of oak beams adjusted together without a rivet or a peg by the carpenters of the Middle Ages. Such a technical achievement to support the weight of the lead roof, more than two hundred tons. With the timber roof on fire, the spire tumbled into the inferno. What could have said Vladimir Jankelevitch for this event mostly inconceivable, almost a disgrace ? Would he say the same words he wrote in Somewhere in the Unfinished?

The glory cathedral dominates the whole city with its spire soaring to the sky. And the divine presence is nestled within the heart of the shrine. A thousand flames of the candles are now in darkness, a thousand voices of the choirs have been silenced. The splendors which once illuminated the shrine are now keeping the shrine in the shadows of the shrine. The ascetical Christian silence finds its true mystical sense. When we enter now upon this mystery and this darkness, we lower our voice as we lower our voice in the funeral wake.

View of Notre Dame from quai de la Tournelle Atget

View of Notre-Dame from quai de la Tournelle
Atget – 1923
(Wikimedia Commons – Met Museum)

Notre Dame from quai de la Tournelle

Pont Marie

We are now crossing pont de la Tournelle to get in Ile Saint-Louis. It is always a pleasure strolling here, such an elegant place.
Then, we take rue
des Deux-Ponts (Two Bridges Street), which connects the two bridges: pont de la Tournelle and pont Marie.
The area between quais d'Anjou and de Bourbon is always a little bit chilly.

Pont-Marie view from quai de Bournon Atget

Pont Marie -View from quai de Bourbon
(Musée Carnavalet)

Pont Marie Ile Saint-Louis

Our stroll ends on quai de l’Hôtel de Ville transformed into some seaside holiday resort during the summer with the palm trees and the deck-chairs of Paris Plage.

Quai de l'Hôtel de Ville

If we cannot yet swim in the Seine, during summer we can however swim in la Villette basin, the largest artificial lake in Paris.
During July and August, the banks of the Seine are transformed into recreation areas since 2002. The first one was created here on quai de l’Hôtel de Ville. It was followed by others on the left bank to finally form the riverside Parc Rives de Seine, 2.3 kilometers long between Bastille and the Eiffel Tower.

This concept of baths along the Seine river is not that new. The barber Poitevin installed a floating hot bath in 1761, near pont Royal in front of the Tuileries. It was a boat with  two levels of cabins over the river. It was replaced later in 1800 by other floating baths, the Bains Vigier. Atget photographed one of them, close to Pont Marie.
The writer Emile Zola also refers to them in his book The Masterpiece (l'Oeuvre). There is also a nice description of the area, at the end of the day, the time I prefer to stroll along the river.

Christine always made him stop just before they reached the Pont Royal, near the fine trees beside Vigier’s swimming baths; and when they turned round to shake hands once more in the golden sunset now flushing into crimson, they looked back and, on the horizon, espied the Isle Saint Louis, whence they had come, the indistinct distance of the city upon which night was already descending from the slate-hued eastern sky.
Ah! what splendid sunsets they beheld during those weekly strolls ... As they proceeded, the ardent blaze of the western sky turned to purple on their left, above the dark line of houses, and the orb of day seemed to wait for them, falling gradually lower, slowly rolling towards the distant roofs when once they had passed the Pont Notre-Dame in front of the widening stream.

Les Bains Vigier Atget

Les Bains Vigier
(Musée Carnavalet)

Quai Hotel de Ville

Texte / Photos : Martine Combes

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