The Seine River springs from picturesque Burgundy, France. It flows through the heart of "Sweet Paree" before threading its way through the orchards and fields-a-bloom in Normandy. Cruising along these waters combines the best of urban and rural French culture, from the burlesque cabarets of Paris to the sleepy medieval towns along the shoreline, and the breathtaking scenery in between. Historians will enjoy a journey back in time along the Seine, with glimpses into antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the most critical moments of World War II. Whether travelers possess an appreciation of the arts and fine wine, or rolling hills and time-tested architecture, the gentle roll of the River Seine provides a relaxing rhythm to any French discovery.
- Country: France
- Source: Burgundy, France
- Mouth: The English Channel
- Length: 482 miles
Until locks were installed to artificially raise the water level of the Seine in the 1800s, the river consisted only of a shallow channel of continuous flow bordered by sandy banks. Today, special reservoirs help maintain a constant level for the river, keeping the depth around 26 feet as it flows through the heart of Paris. The water of the Seine is an important resource for central and western France. Electric power stations, thermal and nuclear, pull their cooling water from the river. Half the water used in the Paris region-and three quarters of the water used in the area between Rouen and Le Havre is drawn from the river.
The ancient Celtic Parisii tribe inhabited modern-day Paris near the Seine as early as 250 B.C. They excelled in navigation and trading all the way down to the Mediterranean Sea, building quays and tow paths along the banks. The Romans conquered the Paris basin in 52 B.C., leaving a permanent settlement on the left bank of the Seine called Lutetia, and later, Lutèce. Over the course of the following centuries, the city eventually known as Paris became prosperous, boasting a forum, palaces, baths, temples and an amphitheatre. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Paris was largely abandoned by its inhabitants and was little more than a ghost town.
While the Seine itself is a peaceful river with a gentle, meandering flow, it has set the stage for a number of tumultuous events in the history of France. In 885 A.D., the Vikings used the Seine to invade France, rowing hundreds of longboats and an army 40,000-strong inland to the heart of the country. And in the height of the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc was martyred in the shoreline city of Rouen after leading the French army in several important victories in the Hundred Years' War. The Seine was a critical crossing in World War II, and the tragic final resting place of many victims of the Paris Massacre in 1961.
In recent years, the Seine River has been the subject of major conservation efforts in France dubbed "Operation Clean Seine." In 1991, the banks of the Seine in Paris—the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite—were added to United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization's list of World Heritage Sites in Europe.
The City of Light shines bright in the reflection of the Seine. Views of Paris from the river include Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. Travelers can enjoy a candlelit dinner at a Parisian café or take in a world-class cabaret show.
Float gently down the River Seine, passing through suburban Paris, to discover the town of Conflans. Nearby, quaint Auvers-Sur-Oise is the inspirational town that Vincent Van Gogh called home. Those with an affinity for French history may want to visit nearby Château de Malmaison, the elaborately decorated estate of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte. Further downstream, the riverside town of Vernon features the magnificent Bizy Castle and the immaculate gardens at Claude Monet's country house.
Rouen, the jewel of medieval France, is next. On the right bank, half-timbered, glazed-tiled houses and ancient architecture line the streets, prompting many to refer to Rouen as ville-musee, or museum town. Make time to admire the city's Astronomical Clock and the Rouen Cathedral. The Cathedral was once the tallest building in the world and inspired an impressive series of Claude Monet's paintings.
A short jaunt from the river, the historic Normandy Beaches pay reverent homage to the soldiers who fought so valiantly on these shores during World War II. The surrounding countryside is ripe with fragrant fruit and flowers. Travelers can delight in the region's delectable French cuisine and meal-capping apple brandy.
Continuing down the Seine, Les Andelys presents the dramatic visage of Château Gaillard. Built by England's King Richard the Lionheart in 1196, the château is truly a masterpiece of medieval military architecture.
Couples will enjoy Paris—the "City on the Seine"—but a journey down its soothing waters will make even the most uninterested visitor fall in love with France. The river inspired many of the masterpieces of French impressionism and served as a critical battleground for world wars, making it a must-see destination for art and history buffs alike. And as is custom in France, cuisine and viticulture are always top shelf.
Did You Know?
- George Seurat's famous pointillist masterpiece, "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," is set on an island in the Seine.
- According to his will, Napoleon, who died in 1821, wished to be buried on the banks of the Seine. His request was not granted.
- Dredging in the 1960s mostly eliminated tidal bores on the river, known as le mascaret.
- The Parisii tribe's motto can still be found today on the Paris coat of arms. It reads "Fluctuat nec mergitur," which is Latin for "She is tossed by the waves but is not sunk."