Canal Saint-Martin in Paris

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Canal Saint-Martin is a 4.5 km long canal in Paris. It connects the Canal de l'Ourcq to the river Seine.


The entrance of the canal is a double lock near Place de Stalingrad. Then, towards the river Seine, the canal is bordered by the quai de Valmy on one side and the quai de Jemmapes on the other. The canal continues to the Seine via the Port de l'Arsenal.


Construction of the canal was ordered by Napoleon I in 1802, in order to create an artificial waterway for supplying Paris with fresh water to support a growing population and to help avoid diseases such as dysentery and cholera.

Gaspard de Chabrol, prefect of Paris, proposed to build a canal from the river Ourcq (starting 100 km northeast of Paris). The canal was dug from 1802 to 1825, funded by a new tax on wine. The canal was also used to supply Paris with food (grain), building materials, and other goods, carried on canal boats. Two ports were created in Paris on the canal to unload boats: Port de l'Arsenal and Bassin de la Villette.

By the 1960s, traffic had dwindled to a trickle and the canal narrowly escaped being filled in and paved over for a highway. Today, the canal is covered from Rue du Faubourg du Temple to the Place de la Bastille.

In late December 2006, 350 tents were put on the Canal Saint-Martin by the NGO Les Enfants de Don Quichotte, in support of the "right to lodging" . The NGO invited well-lodged people to sleep a night in the tent, alongside homeless people. The NGO Médecins du monde (MDM) had taken the initiative, in 2005, to give tents to all homeless people in Paris, in order to provide them with minimal privacy and to make misery visible. But the prefecture of police, under orders of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was progressively expelling homeless people camping in Paris. Thus, the Enfants de Don Quichotte's action attracted attention to this expulsion. In the context of the 2007 presidential election, Jacques Chirac announced that the "opposable right to lodging" would be enacted into law before the end of his term.


Today, the canal is a popular destination for Parisians and tourists who watch the barges navigate the series of locks and road bridges. There are also a number of popular restaurants and bars along it. The area is popular with students.

Canal Saint-Martin in culture


The canal inspired painters such as Alfred Sisley.

Appearances in film and television

  • The canal is shown in the 1938 film Hôtel du Nord, directed by Marcel Carné.
  • The canal appears in the 2001 film Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, in which the title character enjoys skipping stones at the locks of the canal.
  • The canal was also the setting in part for Jean Vigo's film L'Atalante in 1934.
  • In Les Malheurs d'Alfred (1972), Pierre Richard and Anny Duperey meet each other at the beginning of the film, thinking of committing suicide in the canal.


  • Édith Piaf sings about the canal in the song "Les mômes de la cloche", written by Vincent Scotto and Decaye, music by Médinger, in 1936.


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