• LOCATION 23 | Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    Medici and Roman aqueducts

    Medici and Roman aqueducts on Paris audio tour Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    So if you haven't already, at the end of the street, take a very sharp right, stop there, and look down. You’ll see a manhole cover and next to it a medallion. This is the coat of arms of Marie de Médicis, mixing her late husband’s French fleur de Lys with the Medici coat of arms.

    Now, look up through the window at the corner of this very modern building. Ta-da! More aqueduct Médicis! As you can see, they did not waste any space here and literally integrated the aqueduct into the building. It gives you a better view at eye level, and soon we’ll get a view without a window. Now you may be wondering, what did they do with the Roman aqueduct?

    Turn a bit to your left, and with the Medici aqueduct window to your right-hand side, keep walking about 30 steps down the street and keep looking to your right. Look for another window.

    [insert 5 second pause]

    And there you are, here is the Roman aqueduct, taking up the entire hallway of this modern building! It’s basically the continuation of the one you saw in the low window opposite Parc Montsouris, and it keeps going, all the way to the Roman baths near Cluny-La Sorbonne. Look down to your feet, and you'll recognize another medallion: the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus.

    Now let’s turn around, towards the window of aqueduct Médicis, the one you just saw when turning around the corner. Walk back up there and stop when you reach the window. On the walk back up the street, you will notice that the little park to your right is actually showcasing entire sections of both aqueducts, starting with the Roman one. They’re behind bars rather than windows, so you can get closer to the park’s fence while walking back up the street.

    The entire city blocks where we’ve been walking used to be giant train warehouses and repair shops. In the 1990s, when the Paris administration tore them down to create sorely needed housing, the excavation work hit the aqueducts, plus some pretty amazing parts of the catacombs too, which were filled with nasty cement during the reinforcement work. So a few of us Parisians complained because they were destroying our underground history! The administration finally agreed to preserve and showcase at least these aqueduct sections in a specially designed garden.

    Turn to face away from the aqueduct Médicis window, and face the park instead to discover the rest. As you can see, architecturally it’s a bit fancier than the Roman one: it’s large enough to fit a small adult, has an arched ceiling to prevent it from collapsing, and the water can run down below in the middle gutter, with little paths for your feet to inspect it. The Roman aqueduct was easy enough to inspect, you just had to lift the top stone cover, but the Medici aqueduct was a proper underground structure. So to access it, they built special structures. Look up the hill in the park, above the arch of the Medici aqueduct, and above ground. Keep walking up the street to your left if you need to. Do you see the little temple or mausoleum-like structure up there on the tiny hill?

    Stop where you can get a good look at this “regard”, a small building through which water inspectors could enter and climb down to the tunnel to check on the water flow and quality. And if this “regard” looks very well preserved, it because it’s a recent copy of an older one that’s a bit further downstream.

    You may be wondering, where all this water is going? Did Marie de Médicis also want her own spa like the Romans? What she wanted were fountains for her brand new Palais du Luxembourg. Unlike her grandson Louis XIV in Versailles decades later, she did share some of the water she had brought all the way to her palace.

    Well, obviously not as in an equal manner as Belgrand two centuries later with réservoir Montsouris, no... Two thirds went to herself, the clergy and the entrepreneur, only one third for us regular Parisians. And people wonder why a bit more than a century later we had the French Revolution.

    Turn so that both the Medici aqueduct section and the regard are to your back, and let’s walk up the street, towards this other garden under the train tracks and stop near its fence.

    By the way, you’re right now in Valentinian street, named after another Roman emperor who, just liked Julian the apostate, liked to fight Germanic barbarians from his Parisian base. And just like Julian, he had nothing to do with the aqueduct. If you’re powerful dudes who just spent a few nights in Paris two thousand years ago, you get streets named after you.

    You’ll notice that this new garden under the tracks is very layered, on a slope, and you even may notice its tiny vineyard. Let's stop in front of the vineyard.

    You may have thought Paris’ smallest vineyard was in Montmartre, but look how tiny this one is. If you want to drink the wine, or just garden a bit, you need to join the non-profit organization taking care of the garden. Unfortunately, though, there is a two-year waiting list because so many Parisians crave having a garden. As a final nod to Montmartre -or rather to Montsouris- you may even spot a tiny windmill up there.

    Keep walking and put the vineyard to your back, and look for other sections of the Medici aqueduct. Some are still buried further along this neighborhood, and used as cellars, basements, old bomb shelters etc. If you keep looking on the floor, you’ll see the other medallions.

    They are actually curving to your left, going under the private garden, turning towards the Palais du Luxembourg.

    Let’s keep walking slowly, keeping the park to your right. You are now on rue Thomas Francine, the hydraulics engineer who designed the Medici aqueduct, as well as various fancy fountains in many castles. Think of him as the ancestor of Belgrand… if Belgrand was from Tuscany, as Thomas Francine’s birth name is Tommaso Francini. That’s right, if you’re a foreign man and extremely skilled, creating marvels in France for decades, you’ll get a street named after you, but we’ll make damn sure we Frenchify your name. Ask Leonardo da Vinci, or Léonard de Vinci as we call him in France. That's why Tsuguharu Foujita became Léonard Foujita and not Leonardo Foujita.

    Let’s keep walking slowly downhill, checking out the aqueduct sections embedded in the park to your right.

Preview mode limited to first 3 locations.
Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages