Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo (C) poses with swimmers during the inauguration of the Bras Marie nautical base in Paris on July 9, 2023, as she announces the river Seine’s bathing sites planned for Parisians in 2025. BERTRAND GUAY / AFP via Getty Images
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Paris is referred to as the City of Light and the City of Love, and, until 1923, it was also a city of swimming. That year, swimming was banned in the Seine due to excess sewage being drained into the river following heavy rainfall, rendering the iconic river unsafe.
An exception to the ban was the swimming competition, Traversée de Paris à la Nage, which continued into the 1940s, according to Paris Unlocked.
Paris is gearing up for the Summer Olympic Games next year, and is in the final phase of a decade-long, $1.6 billion project to restore the Seine and make it swimmable once again, reported BBC News and France 24.
“When people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they’ll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine,” said Pierre Rabadan, deputy Paris mayor in charge of the Olympics, as BBC News reported. “It’s our contribution for the future.”
Not only was the waterway being polluted with toxic wastewater, but all sorts of trash was being dumped into it, from plastic and cigarette butts to bicycles. Each year, around 386 tons of garbage is removed from the elegant artery dividing Right Bank from Left Bank, reported France 24.
Much of the fecal bacteria that had historically been deposited into the Seine has been eliminated thanks to better practices being implemented in the past 20 years.
“But the difficulty has been in eradicating those last few percentage points to ensure it can be officially classified as clean,” said Samuel Colin-Canivez, chief engineer for sanitation at Paris city hall, as BBC News reported.
An underground reservoir has been built to collect runoff following a deluge, rather than using the river as an overflow site.
Colin-Canivez said there could be rare exceptions when an overflow of wastewater gets into the river, but in those cases it would be deemed “unbatheable.”
The Seine will be used for Olympic events next year, as well as for the games’ opening ceremony.
For years, hardly any fish or other marine species were seen in the Seine, but 30 to 35 species of fish have returned, according to Bill François of the Paris fishing federation, as well as aquatic insects, crayfish, molluscs and sponges.
Back in 2009, wild Atlantic salmon came back to the river in droves after an absence of nearly a century, with hundreds spotted swimming past the Eiffel Tower, researchers told AFP at the time.
“The bottom of the river is developing a coat of the right kind of weed. The clearer the water, the more the weed grows, and then the weed filters the water to make it even clearer — it’s a virtuous circle,” François said, as reported by BBC News.
Three places along the Seine have been designated for public bathing beginning in the summer of 2025, announced to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo: Bras de Grenelle, Bras Marie and Bercy, according to Time Out.
“It will create waves, so to speak, across the world because a lot of cities are watching Paris,” said Dan Angelescu, a scientist who has been tracking water quality in the Seine for city hall, as Euronews reported.