Finding the Lost River of Paris: La Bievre

This week on The Earful Tower podcast we’re talking all about the ancient Bievre river, which once ran through Paris, but was buried in 1912 and mostly forgotten.

You can listen to the episode below (or wherever you find podcasts) and scroll down for tips on finding the river yourself.

Tracing the route of the Bievre River

The Bievre entered Paris at Parc Kellerman in the 13th arrondissement (map), where you can find a few instances of the word Bievre written on wooden panels by the main pond. “The Symbolic Course of the Bievre”, say the signs. From the park, the river ran northwards to the Seine. To track it, simply exit the park onto rue de la Poterne des Peupliers and follow the medallions.

Remember, the river was totally buried and hidden in 1912, so if you want to make the trek you will be searching for hints of river-formed architecture, curved streets, buildings, and ancient castles – rather than flowing water!

When we made our own Bievre Pilgrimage with 15 Patreon members, we were especially searching for anything Bievre-related including information plaques, medallions on the ground, restaurants or shops called Bievre, Metro stations… anything and everything. And we found lots.

Here is a rough Google maps look at the route we took. It’s important to note that the river turned right and emptied into the Seine near the Jardin des Plantes, but we were purposefully aiming for the post office (more on this later). The map below says it’s just a 1 hour 1 minute walk from the park at the start to the post office… but due to stopping, backtracking, sneaking into courtyards, reading plaques… it took us about 2.5 hours.

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Can you see the curves on the map above? That’s essentially river bends. It’s fascinating to think how the city was formed by this old waterway. On the picture below you can see one road (with a tower!) where the curve is particularly visible still, rue Berbier du Metz.

What happened on our walk?

We found dozens of markers, one “Rue du Bievre”, about ten big watermill plaques on the ground, and several street, park, and Metro names tied to the river. Some were obvious like a park called Mail de Bievre, others were more subtle like the Glaciere Metro station (named from the glacial ice when the river froze over). We live-streamed one hour of the walk, members can find the replay here.

How to find the Bievre medallions

There are several different Bievre medallions, all of which begin with “ancien lit de la Bievre”, meaning “the former riverbed of the Bievre”. The most common continue with the words “bras mort” referring to one arm of the river, others say “bras vif”, each referring to the man made or natural section of the waterway. Others say “bras unique” for a third manmade arm of the river.

There are also plenty of bigger plaques on the ground stating where old water mills once stood. And you can imagine that we were particularly excited to find the Bievre cut across Boulevard Arago (as Arago was last week’s topic).

The easiest place for a quick treasure hunt

At the bottom of rue Mouffetard, you can find loads of plaques and medallions. Don’t be afraid to walk in a bigger circle one street over to find even more. There are at least four big plaques, including the one below about the Petit Moulin, or the “placement of Little Mill”.

The forgotten archway

Once a month, the post office on rue Cardinal Lemoine opens its cellar door for curious tourists to look at an ancient underground stone archway, through which the Bievre once flowed. It was built by monks who wanted water at their Abby. This arch was a part of the Philippe Auguste Wall, and is by far the hardest vestige to find. The post office only opens it at 2.30pm on the first Wednesday of each month for a free guided tour that’s only in French.

Walk in the Bievre

If you have some rubber boots and don’t mind crossing the border out of Paris, you can always walk in the Bievre, as we did in the episode. Below you can see our guide the immortal Comte de Sainte Germain, and you can find more about him on Instagram here, and check out his Paris audio walks here.

In 2022 city officials re-opened this 600 metres of river through a park just off rue Gandilhon. It’s much easier to trace the Bievre outside of Paris as it hasn’t been hidden away nearly as much.

The future of the Bievre

There are talks for a long time about reopening the Bievre river. It could all be mayoral promises, but who knows. One thing is for sure, they did a great job of letting the river flow once more through Gentilly, so who knows what is in store for Paris. Time magazine wrote about it more extensively here.

As for you, if you want to see a virtual walk along the Bievre, click this link, which will only work for Earful Tower members. Not a Patreon member? Sign up here and get even more out of this channel 🙂

Otherwise, be sure to keep your eyes peeled while you’re walking around Paris. You might never have considered it, but roads like “Rue du Moulin des Pres” could be specifically tied to an old watermill that’s now forever tied to a long-forgotten river.

The podcast episode again

Take a much deeper dive into this topic by listening to our podcast episode below. This was part of the new alphabet season of the Earful, in which B stands for Bievre, following A for Arago. Next week: Something beginning with the letter C.

2 thoughts on “Finding the Lost River of Paris: La Bievre

  1. Really enjoyed this episode! Can’t wait to explore next time I’m in Paris.

  2. What an enjoyable episode! I didn’t expect the subject of a lost river to be as interesting as you made it, and funny, too. And how amazing is Pres Maxson? The research he does to find the right song for the episode is incredible. I’m enjoying the CD very much. I’m glad I got the CD so I could read the notes and enjoy the photos. It is a treasure. Thank you so much for doing the music project. Looking forward to my trip to Paris next month.

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