A long time ago, when I had first moved to Paris, I took a walking tour in the 10th arrondissement, which included the Canal St-Martin. I had no idea there was a canal in Paris, and that tour stands out as one of the most interesting ones I took. Turns out there are several canals in Paris- who knew? Recently I returned to the neighborhood on my own and found it just as captivating as I had remembered it.
The 2.7 mile canal was ordered built in 1801 by Napoleon, who correctly realized that dirty drinking water was not such a good thing for Parisians, who were frequently plagued with epidemics of cholera and dysentery. The canal was completed in 1825, and provided Paris with grain, building materials, and other goods on canal boats, in addition to clean drinking water. In the 19th century, the area became populated by working class laborers, and many of the buildings lining the canal were used for producing goods. This area has now seen gentrification and is a popular area for students and people wanting to buy apartments with views of the canal, which is lined with popular bars and restaurants and trendy boutiques. One can even take a boat cruise along the canal, and go through the nine locks and several swinging bridges. I think I need to do that one- I am growing weary of the boat tours of the Seine.
A short walk from the canal is the beautiful Hopital Saint Louis. This hospital was founded in 1607 by King Henry IV, following the devastating epidemics of 1562, 1596, and 1606. It was built outside of the city walls, and was intended to be a place to care for the victims of the plague, while keeping them away from the unaffected population. The hospital was used only sporadically during epidemics and for other special purposes until 1773, when it became a permanent hospital. In the 19th century the hospital became specialized in dermatology. Today there is a modern hospital just outside the walls of the old building, which is now used for administrative purposes.
The old hospital is built in a square around a courtyard, and is eerily beautiful to me. Of course, none of the patients who entered the hospital during the plagues ever left, but it is interesting to consider that none of the medical staff left, either. Surely the doctors and nurses knew that they would not survive their “shift” at Hopital Saint Louis. Do you think that they volunteered to go?
I had lunch at a cafe that was supposed to offer me a good view of the lively street scene next to the canal. Instead, my table had a view of this mountain of beer kegs and then the Heineken truck pulled up and he loaded each one of these into the truck in front of me. Oh well. I had enjoyed a day of good scenery.