Paris is to bring back swimming in the River Seine after 100 years.
Open water swimming in the river was banned 100 years ago due to pollution levels. But, thanks to a €1.4bn (£1.2bn) renovation project, a major clean-up operation has been completed ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.
Three events – triathlon, marathon swimming and paratriathlon – are scheduled to take part in the central Paris river. And by 2025, three areas will be open for the public to access from the Quayside, reports the BBC.
Pierre Rabadan, deputy Paris mayor, said: “When people see athletes swimming in the Seine with no health problems, they’ll be confident themselves to start going back in the Seine.
“It’s our contribution for the future.”
Much like many other major cities, Paris saw its river quality decline sharply thanks to upstream industrial sewage and the sanitation demands of a burgeoning population.
Although swimming was banned in 1923, the annual cross-river competition continued until World War II.
A main issue authorities faced when bringing back swimming was the “single-system” drainage, that unites used water from kitchens and bathrooms as well as sewage from toilets.
Usually this would flow through under-street tunnels. But whenever there is heavy rain, the system becomes saturated and has to drain into the Seine.
The pollution issue has been solved using a vast underground reservoir that will act as a run-off in heavy rain. The building site can be seen by Austerlitz station – and in front of the Pitié-Salpetrière hospital where Princess Diana died after her car crash in 1997.
Samuel Colin-Canivez, chief engineer for sanitation at Paris city hall, said: “Up to now the Seine has been the safety valve for the sewage system. If we didn’t occasionally allow wastewater into the river, it would have backed up into people’s homes.
“Now a tunnel will bring the overflow to the reservoir, where it can be stored for a day or two – the time for the system to settle down again. Then it will be drained as normal to the treatment centers.”
The mega basin will be operational by next year. It means the Seine can not just be used as a venue for the Olympics but can play a part in the opening ceremony.
For 20 years, visitors to Paris have been able to enjoy Paris-plages (Paris beaches), in which sections of the river-quays are transformed with sand, parasols and beach games. However, only in the north of the city on the Canal de l’Ourcq was swimming permitted.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo has now unveiled three spots on the Seine which will also be open for public bathing from summer 2025. They are in central Paris near the Île Saint-Louis, and at the eastern and western ends of the city.