It is a bit of a climb to Place Verlaine up the hill of the ‘village’ Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th arrondissement. But you’ll end up near the urban, design version of a ‘village pump’ with water tapped of a well deep down.
The glass panel displays the well’s history, which goes back to the huge 19th-century city renovations of Haussmann. Originally the well was drilled to drain water away from the little, highly polluted river Bièvre faster into the Seine and to provide the quarter with clean water.
Since 1863 drilling has taken place in intervals. Due to a lack of money, the uprising of 1871 ‘La Commune’ and changing plans the well only became operational in 1904. At a depth of 582 meters a so called artesian well was drilled and its pressure provoked a ‘spontaneous’ spring of water. The planned link with the Bièvre had already been abandoned. As of 1924 the water had been used for the newly built public bath on the square: a unique phenomenon at that time. Finally the original well fell into decline.
To create today’s public well a new hole, up till 620 meters deep, was drilled in 1999. And since then everybody has been able to enjoy good mineral water for free. Every hour of the day you see locals with shopping trolleys and backpacks, walking, biking or even by car in order to fill their plastic bottles and jerrycans with water.
The currently covered little river reminds me of a passage from Hector Malot’s ‘Alone in the World‘. When Rémi and his Lise could still walk in the sloping and green valley of the Bièvre, south of Butte-aux-Cailles.