• LOCATION 8 | Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    Wallace Fountain

    Wallace Fountain on Paris audio tour Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages

    That green metal thing to your right is a Wallace fountain, or as we used to call it, the “brasserie of the four women”. Please stop somewhere close to the fountain, and if you're between mid-march and mid-November, you may even get water to drink.

    The four caryatids surrounding the stream of water represent four different virtues and seasons. Simplicity / spring and Sobriety / autumn both have closed eyes, while Goodness / winter & Charity / summer have their eyes opened. They do look quite similar, but also differ by the way their tunics are tied, and the position of their legs.

    These fountains were designed by Richard Wallace, a British philanthropist who had inherited millions from his noble family. He had been living in Paris for decades when the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 started. Both the war and the combats of the 1871 revolution, the Paris Commune, made access to water very complicated for poor and working-class Parisians. Drinking water was not only toxic, but also expensive, so a lot of people turned to cheap wine, and during the temperance movement that last bit was not acceptable. So while Belgrand took care of heavy infrastructure like the réservoir Montsouris, Wallace offered to install these fountains to make drinking water accessible to people who didn’t even have running water in their homes.

    He gave 50 fountains for free, Belgrand decided where to put them, and the Paris administration has been paying for new ones ever since. The water is still drinkable to this day, and while most Parisian do have running water in their homes, the fountains are very useful for homeless people, and for travelers like us. It’s not very convenient to actually get to to the water, because the fountains were designed to be used with tumblers attached by chains to the fountain. But I remember, in 1952 the local government decided that it wasn’t very hygienic, so now you have to bring you own bottle… or just cup your hands.

    Feeling better? If all those water sounds made you want to go to the bathroom, try to hold it a bit, there’ll be a bathroom break halfway through the walk. Yes, I may not have a bladder anymore, but I remember what’s it’s like! Ready for some pretty houses and flowers?

    With the Wallace fountain and the réservoir block to your right, look towards the playground. Because they have removed a pedestrian crossing, we now have to walk towards the pirate ship slide again, but this time keeping the playground to our right, basically completing the triangular shape of the island. Towards the tip of the island, use the pedestrian crossing to your left, going away from the playground and away from the réservoir.

    Once you’ve crossed, turn left again, walk downhill and keep the réservoir block to your left, you’ll get a sense of the scale of the reservoir.

    While we walk, guess what is under the cathedral of water where I took a dip? The catacombs! That’s right, the entire neighborhood is full of old underground quarries. For centuries, the layer of beautiful yellowish limestone under Paris was emptied out to build Paris' signature stone buildings. So to prevent the weight of the water making the quarries’ ceiling fall in, Belgrand’s team built more pillars below, in the quarries. That’s right, they brought cheaper rocks down there, to support the hole in the fancy rock layer. The rest of the catacombs doesn’t have these pillars, but if it's been raining a lot the water table rises from below, so parts of them get flooded. Also, it's illegal to go to the part of the catacombs under us, but that doesn't stop some Parisians, known as cataphiles.

    Ready for the first taste of a secret village? Walk along the large, white buildings to your right and stop at the corner.

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Highlights Around Parc Montsouris: From Hidden Water to Secret Villages