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Secrets of the Seine

"In Paris, the Seine is a city girl, an elegant beauty worthy of adornment. Her banks and bridges were created to be shown, not hidden.” - Elaine Sciolino, author of The Seine: The River That Made Paris

Photo credit:

Gabriela Plump

If Elaine Sciolino had it her way, everyone would know the name Sequana. The pre-Roman healing goddess of the Seine River, Sequana has been a source of strength and inspiration for Ms. Sciolino as she completed her most recent book, “The Seine: The River That Made Paris,” out on October 29.

For three years, Ms. Sciolino, a contributing writer and former Paris Bureau Chief for The New York Times, traveled along all 483 miles of the Seine, researching and reporting for “The Seine.” Sciolino began at the river’s source in a remote plateau in Burgundy. Though far away from the City of Lights, it is Paris that maintains the source of the Seine. In 1864, Napoléon III put the source under the city’s governance.

From the source, Ms. Sciolino followed the Seine all the way to the sea at Le Havre and Honfleur. Along the way, she drank from its waters (where it is still pure at the source) and even swam in the river.

In Paris, the Seine is undergoing a transformation. There’s a new floating art museum, Fluctuart, miles of car-free pedestrian roadways, workout equipment, and spaces to eat, drink, and sunbathe. The banks of the Seine offer some of the most pleasant paths in Paris for walking, running, and biking. Begin at the small Statue of Liberty on Île aux Cygnes, at Paris’s western edge. In the middle of the Seine, the air is cleaner, which makes it a popular running route.

Though lively during the day, the Seine is most magical at night. As Ms. Sciolino writes, “In Paris, the Seine is a city girl, an elegant beauty worthy of adornment. Her banks and bridges were created to be shown, not hidden.”

Since the fire on April 15, 2019, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame stands dark. The city of Paris no longer illuminates its facade. The structure would not be standing at all, however, were it not for the Seine.

Half the water used to fight the fire came from the Seine. Two fire brigade boats, Colonel Paulin, and the larger, more powerful Île-de-France came to Notre-Dame’s rescue.

After the fire, Ms. Sciolino interviewed the commander of the Paris firefighter brigade, three-star general Jean-Claude Gallet to write a new afterword for “The Seine: The River That Made Paris.”

“The water of the Seine saved Notre-Dame,” General Gallet said. “The Seine was an ally, but more than an ally. It was a serene, tranquil force supporting us against the chaos of the flames. It all sounds a bit mystical, but the Seine came to our rescue.”

Ms. Sciolino offers her own mythic interpretation: “The holy waters of the river that once bore the name Sequana saved the greatest cathedral in the world. I want to believe that the spirit of the goddess Sequana herself lives on.”

With Secret Journeys and Elaine Sciolino, experience not only the many visual wonders that decorate the banks of the Seine, but also the layered stories behind them for an unforgettable and immersive cruising experience.

Sophie Stuber, author of this article, assisted Elaine Sciolino in the research for "The Seine."

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