The name of the Seine derives from the Latin sequana or “snake.” Glancing at the map of this river, you will immediately appreciate how it got its name—it meanders, snakelike, through the countryside, from the French interior to the Normandy coast. The length of the river between Paris and the sea is nearly 240 miles, but the distance as the crow flies is only 110 miles. Winding through the countryside, a Seine River cruise can take visitors to some of the most beautiful and storied locations in northern France. Along the river lie such locations as Monet’s Giverny and historic Rouen for river cruise travelers to explore.
The Seine River is the longest and most-used inland river in France, carrying the bulk of commercial traffic because the country’s other rivers are too shallow or have strong and unpredictable currents. The river is navigable for about 350 of its 482 total miles, and its gentle “fall” (it tops out at just 1,545 feet above sea level) made it relatively easy to canalize. Only six weirs and locks had to be built on the river between Paris and the English Channel to make a Seine cruise possible.
The source of the Seine is in France’s Burgundy region; it flows from a spring in an idyllic wooded valley which even in Roman times had a special magnetism. Roman-Gallic offerings of sacrifice and a wonderful bronze statue of the goddess Sequana in a duck-shaped boat have been found during excavations in the area near the river and can be seen at the archaeological museum in Dijon. In the 19th century the city of Paris bought the land around the source of the Seine River and in 1865 erected a statue of the reclining Sequana in a grotto above the spring.
The Seine River runs right through Paris; historically it was quite shallow in the city, but reservoirs and locks help to maintain a constant water level. Periodically the level of the Seine rises to threatening levels, most recently in the winter of 1999-2000. In 2003 there was a flood alert and about 100,000 works of art were taken from basement storage and moved out of Paris as a precaution against rising river waters.
A Seine cruise through Paris on special sightseeing river cruise boats, whether by day or evening, is a must for visitors. The boats pass under many beautiful bridges along the river, each one unique, offering stunning views of iconic Parisian landmarks such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. The Seine River in Paris became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. A Seine cruise is described on the UNESCO list as follows: “From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural masterpieces while Haussmann’s wide squares and boulevards influenced late 19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over.”
As any visitor to France who travels this spectacular waterway will be able to see, a Seine River cruise is truly an exciting journey through history and culture.