The Canal Saint-Martin in Paris is one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful waterways. Despite its storied history and undeniable beauty, the centuries-old, 4.5-kilometer canal is also one of the dirtiest, and it has to be periodically cleaned out.

City authorities recently drained and cleaned the canal for the first time since 2001, removing over 40 tons of debris in the process—and it wasn’t all beer cans clogging things up.

Thousands of artifacts were pulled from the muck, and they range from fascinating to downright bizarre. When you see them, you’ll never look at a body of water the same way again!

The Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, has a very rich history, though you would never know it just from looking at this photograph. Instead of looking like something from the pages of a history book, it resembles a garbage heap. But it wasn’t always this way…

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The canal’s construction was ordered by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Napoleon did a lot to improve the infrastructure of Paris, making the capital city habitable and comfortable in a way it had never been before.

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The canal was designed to bring fresh water to Paris’s rapidly growing population. This meant that fewer folks were using standing water, making the population much healthier. It also provided an avenue for commerce, which was a real boon to the city’s economy.

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City authorities recently dammed and drained the canal for the first time since 2001. Because of the state of the canal today, regularly draining and cleaning is integral to keep it operational and to keep conditions near it safe.

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When it was first built, the canal was a total godsend, changing the lives of the city’s residents. But as the city grew, the canal was put under immense strain. Today, while the canal is still scenic, it has mostly become a watery garbage dump.

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In typical French fashion, funding for the drainage project was procured through a tax on wine. Keep that little bit of trivia in your pocket the next time you’re at a party and someone gives you a bit of a hard time for indulging in a second glass of French vino!

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Workers descended into the canal bed to begin the cleaning process. You can already tell from this overhead shot alone that they were going to need a lot more than a couple of nets and a handful of buckets to get this tough job done.

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So far, they’ve removed over 40 tons of debris and counting! The fact that so much has been removed from the canal and that there is still so much to go is practically unthinkable. It might have been a while since it was last cleaned, but those numbers are outrageous.

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It’s a bizarre sight for the city’s residents to see the waters of the canal so low and the bits of trash that have yet to be cleaned up gathering on the muddy shores on either side of the water. Talk about a total eyesore! Still, it’s fascinating to see…

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The water is still so low that you can practically walk across it. In fact, several residents in the area didn’t think twice when it came to tromping through the drained canal if it meant shaving a couple of minutes off of their commute!

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The cleanup crew found a lot of wine bottles, which wasn’t surprising. Wine is, after all, one of the preferred beverages in France. Now if only the people chucking these wine bottles into the canal could be convinced to pitch their empties elsewhere!

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But there was a whole lot more, too! Empty wine bottles are something you’re bound to found at the bottom of most bodies of water running through a city, but some of the other things they found when they drained this canal were just crazy…

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People seemed to have abandoned thousands of bikes and mopeds there. Everyone can get frustrated with their ride from time to time, but can you ever imagine being so peeved with your moped that you would hurl it into a canal?

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Some of them appeared to have been thrown in quite recently, like this relatively brand-new motorcycle. It’s hard to say if these vehicles were stolen for joy rides and dropped or if the drivers accidentally careened into the canal.

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While items like the aforementioned motorcycle seem very new,  most of the artifacts they found in the bottom of the canal were quite old. In a weird way, draining the canal and cleaning it out was a lot like traveling back through time.

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Even though they were mostly everyday objects, the items found in the canal seemed to carry a certain kind of historical dignity. Isn’t it amazing how items from the past can seem to bring with them memories of bygone days?

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For the workers who got a chance to participate in helping drain and clean out the canal, it was like wading into the city’s rich past. To them it likely felt that they were members of an important team responsible for unearthing the city’s secrets.

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Many of the city’s residents gathered to watch the cleaning. The project was slow moving but the results were undeniable. People couldn’t help coming over to the canal to take a peek and to see just how things were progressing.

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  In fact, the public couldn’t get enough and wanted to see what else they were going to pull out. For some folks, it was almost better than watching TV! They got to examine all of the items and speculate about where they came from and how they wound up in the canal.

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The city’s avian residents also turned out in droves to inspect their new territory. For the birds, the lowered water meant that they had better access to vegetation on the bottom of the canal. The birds were in total heaven!

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The canal’s aquatic residents were probably less than thrilled since the draining of the canal meant a serious change to their environment. If it wasn’t handled properly, many of the fish there could have lost their lives.

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But the city didn’t just leave them to perish at the bottom. In fact, the process of handling the fish inside of the canal was one of the bigger aspects of the entire cleanup process. After all, what good is a clean canal if there are no fish to enjoy its waters?

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During a span of several days, workers moved over four tons of fish to a safe location. You might think that they used some sort of high-tech equipment, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the fish were transported to safety using buckets!

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In addition to the more modern artifacts discovered in the canal, there were plenty of older items. Sure, the cell phone pictured below might be considered out of date for today, but it is hardly ancient. Still, there were many finds of older goods at the bottom of the canal.

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There were old boom boxes, for instance, which proved that even the too-cool streets of Paris were not immune to the boxy contraptions that were once the only way to hear your music on the go. It makes you wonder if workers recovered any cassette tapes?

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They also found a wide array of different photographic equipment. This camera at the bottom of the canal is very old, and if it were found in working conditions it might be considered a valuable antique! Unfortunately, the water ruled that out in this case.

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Among the items found in the canal were some artifacts from the first World War, including coins, an unexploded shell, and even a car! The most amazing part of finding all of these items was realizing that there were so many stories among them.

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This is definitely a story worth keeping an eye on. Who knows what else they’re going to fish out of there by the time this project is done?

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