Il flotte mais ne sombre pas

cpa_bains_butteA few months ago, I read a fascinating story by a fellow blogger at Parisian Fields about the puits de Grenelle, a 19th century tower that capped an artesian well in central Paris. In the way that these things go, I went from knowing nothing about the spring water of Paris to finding about more of them.

Butte-aux-CaillesAfter a cholera epidemic in 1832, there was a big push to find safe water for the growing population of the capital. The aquifer beneath Paris was tapped in multiple locations in order to provide clean, cheap water to the residents of the city.  It’s 600 meters beneath the surface. Today, some of the springs are still available to the public, even though the volume is much less than in the past. Just bring your own container and refrigerate before drinking, because it spews forth at 28 – 30 °C (82 – 86 °F).


The natural spring at the Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th Arrondissement supplied the needs of a sugar refinery. It’s pictured in the top three pictures of this post – then and now. It’s hard to imagine that so much industry went on in Paris until the early 20th century. The water was used to fill the swimming pool that bore the same name. The pool and sugar refinery are long gone, but now a fountain in the Place Paul Verlaine makes the water freely available to the public.

paris_puits-passyThe Passy spring is in Square Lamartine in the 16th Arrondissement. It was built on orders of Baron Haussmann, the great transformer of Paris under the reign of Napoleon III. The puits de la place Hebert, in the 18th Arrondissment, is the deepest and hottest of the artesian wells. It, too, supplied a pool, but today there is a public fountain at place de la Madone.

puits de BlometOther artesian wells were discovered more or less accidentally. The puits de Blomet in the 15th Arrondissement was discovered in 1929 during excavation for a municipal pool. Even Radio France has an artesian well. This time, the water was never intended for drinking, but rather for heating. Long before the energy crisis of the 70s, the home of Radio France, in the chic 16th, was heated geothermally.

eau petillantAnd if, like me, you like bubbly water better than still, you can get that for free in Paris, too. In the jardin de Reuilly (12th) and at 19 rue Neuve-Tolbiac (13th) you can choose between warm water, cool water, and bubbly. Now this water doesn’t naturally emerge in two temperatures and flat and sparkling. The geothermal energy of the water is harnessed to run a refrigeration system. Once the water is cooled, the CO2 is added, and violà, free, chilled, bubbly water with the turn of a tap. Apparently the City is planning to install more of these multi-option fountains throughout the Paris. Now that’s refreshing!

Grandes_Armes_de_ParisAll of this water makes perfect sense when you consider the motto and crest of Paris. In Latin, it’s fluctuat nex mergitus, which is translated into French as Il flotte mais ne sombre pas (eel flot meh nuh sombruh pah), which means “It floats but does not founder.” The saying is a reference to la corporation des Marchands de l’eau who grew Paris’ economy on the Seine in the Middle Ages. The water that lies beneath the city is just as interesting – and infinitely more potable.

51m3wE-jtEL__SL75_Paris: The Novel

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
This entry was posted in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Il flotte mais ne sombre pas

  1. egbert says:

    Very interesting. I see the sugar factory building is still there today. What is it used for?

  2. Norman Ball says:

    This is a great blog that introduces us to a whole part of Paris water systems we knew very little about. Thanks very much for referring to our blog on puits de Grenelle. It was fun to research and to write. And now, thanks to you we have had an enjoyable read, know more about artesian wells and springs in Paris and have some more places to visit next time we are in Paris.

  3. Pingback: Dans les coulisses | One quality, the finest.

  4. Pingback: La Verrière | One quality, the finest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s