* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Le Zouave de Paris

Le Zoave 1If you have been paying the remotest attention to the news recently, you will be aware that massive, disastrous flooding has been going on in multiple areas of the world all at the same time.  While I don't happen to live in one of those zones, my adopted city of Paris is definitely experiencing major flooding, more serious than the several instances that occurred when we lived there.

You may have been hearing about or seen pictures of our famous Zouave.  But you probably don't really know who he is.  So let me introduce you, as my native Parisian neighbor did to me so many years ago.

Disclaimer:  While I do have a number of personal photos of similar images presented here, they are all print photos packed away in a box somewhere.  Thus, I have purloined all of these for educational purposes (yours) from Google Images.  I hope this disturbs nobody.

Le Zoave 2
A regiment of North African Zouaves
The Zouaves, for those of you who may be as ignorant of such things as I was, were French Light Infantry regiments in North Africa between 1830 and 1962, when Algeria gained its independence.  The name derives from the Zwawa group of tribes.

True history buffs (a category that does not include me) may be aware that there were a number of regiments of them in America during our Civil War, mostly on the Union side but also serving the Confederacy. The most famous regiment was in New York and Pennsylvania, but they were even included in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind.

Le Zoave 3
The original Pont de l'Alma, c. 1890

When the French beat the Russians in the Crimean War at Alma in 1854, Napoleon III (nephew to Bonaparte) dedicated a new bridge in Paris to this victory.  It was decorated with four different divisions of the involved military.

Over 100 years later, when the bridge needed to be restored and modernized, only one regiment statue remained, that of the Zouave. 

Le Zoave 4
A chart of past major flood years and their levels

Somehow, he has become a marker for the level of the Seine, although he is not the official reference. 

Traditionally, when his feet are in the water, the Seine is in a non-dangerous flood stage.  But each part of his body that gets submerged presents particular alerts to the levels of flooding.

First, certain riverfront roads get closed.  When the water gets up to his knees, all water navigation is prohibited.

Le Zoave 5
The 1910 Parisian flooding of the Seine at Pont de l'Alma
In modern times, the worst flooding of the Seine occurred in 1910, which must have been amazing to behold.  I believe that a systems of dams was created after that to avoid Paris being underwater in the same way again.

When there was a serious flood while we lived there, they accused those dams of creating worse flood conditions.  Not within my level of engineering experience to have an opinion.

Le Zoave 6
As I remember the levels
Le Zoave 7
A similar condition to what I saw in 2001

There were two major flood conditions during our Paris years.  Being used to seeing the Zouave on his pedestal (I crossed this bridge on foot on many occasions over the years, having a continuing activity nearby), it was always interesting to see when water started swirling around his feet. 

The first time it looked serious was around the turn of the millennium (2000, don't dispute terminology here), and I took a number of pictures.  But those faded into the background the following year, and I took a whole lot more pictures.  I wish I could show them to you.  Hopefully I found one somebody else took of a similar condition, as I remember it.  (I do think the water covered the bottom of his pants.)  Seeing roads we frequently drove on totally submerged was rather amazing.

Le Zoave 8
The Zouave standing guard
Le Zoave 9
Surveying the Seine, as always
I think the current flooding is the first one that surpasses the one of 2001, although there have been a few notable but minor ones in between.  As I am nowhere near the Paris area, I can't take my own photos of the poor Zouave now; but here are a couple images others have captured, in case you've missed them.

Le Zoave 10
Square du Vert-Galant under normal conditions

Another notable area, the Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame is located and considered the heart of Paris, is a tiny little park at the end of it that can really show how much the Seine is overflowing. 

This area was where the original Gallic tribe called the Parisii settled around 52 BC.  Because of the flooding possibilities, the island was eventually raised a fair amount, while the Square du Vert-Galant was left at its original level.  I have personally spent a few pensive moments relaxing here.

Le Zoave 11
During normal water levels
Le Zoave 12
When the Seine overflows
I could show you my own photos of it being dry or flooded if I could locate them, but here are some comparable photos others have taken so you can at least see what I am referring to.

Paris is not having anywhere near the worst devastation at the moment, either in France, in Germany, in the US, or maybe other areas.  But as my adopted city, where I lived a number of years exploring and experiencing it to the fullest, I wanted to share a little of what is fairly remarkable when the waterways go marching. 

And it's not just me, an expat, who gets enthralled.  The Zouave is still making his appearing on French news and in French publications.  He's apparently remained a beloved landmark and water table guide to the Parisians, despite not being the official recording element.

Le Zoave 13
Paris, the Beautiful, with its Magnificent Zouave on sentry duty

And now I will leave you with what I think is a photo I would love to have tried to capture myself (and I do have quite a collection from over the years of various Parisian spots).

My poor little friend still manages to hold his ground for the future despite nature trying to wash him away.


  1. What great information. I remember being in Germany and seeing different landmarks or walks or whatever that showed flooding levels at various time in history, but none were as interesting as your Zouave.

  2. We have been aware of the flooding and that the Louvre has had to close. Texas - fortunately nowhere near where Crissy and Chris live - has had extreme flooding, too. We, of course, here in Southern California are still bone dry with not a drop in sight. This was quite something about the Zouave. I remember his mention in GWTW - "Meribelle Meriweather's little Zouave!"


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