The Aqueducts of Arcueil
Just over five kilometers from such south Paris landmarks as the Luxembourg Gardens and even closer to Montparnasse Cemetery is the Parisian suburb of Arcueil. This is just south of the posh 14th Arronndisement and even though we’re outside of Paris itself, there’s no shortage of historical remnants. Across the landscape, one stands out, the 1.2 kilometer long above ground portion of the Aqueduct of Vanne. In order to bring water from Burgundy to Paris, Baron Haussmann ordered the construction of this aqueduct, and was constructed between 1866 and 1874, to bring fresh drinking water to the residents of France’s largest city. In total, the aqueduct is some 156 kilometers long and stretches all the way to the Vanne River in Flacy, Yonne. Near Paris, the aqueduct is an impressive two-tiered structure that bisects the urban space that has grown up around it. It’s simplistic beauty is an enticing backdrop for the otherwise suburban aspect of this part of the city. Amazingly, this landmark is still used, although the water flow ends a few kilometers short of Arcueil.
Chateau Cadet de Vaux
Franconville, only some thirteen kilometers from the end of the Tour de France as the crow flies, is now a bedroom community within this largest metropolitan area in France. But it wasn’t always like this. Comparatively, this was a sleepy village until the turn of the 19th century and even then it only started to boom as a Parisian suburb in the 1960s. This is important to understand because while it was a quiet place, it quickly became a retreat for the wealthy of Paris. Frenchmen like famous astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini and diplomat Benjamin Franklin lived in the town, all before the mid-1850s. Perhaps the most lasting remnant of this honorable past is the Chateau Cadet de Vaux which sits at the entrance to a small city park by the same name. The peloton will pass this landmark, now a mainstay of the community but otherwise surrounded by more modern residential buildings. The unimposing yet elegant Chateau was purchased by Antoine-Alexis Cadet de Vaux in 1788. Cadet de Vaux was the son of the first physician to the king and as such, grew up well-educated, cultured, and connected. With this background, Cadet de Vaux succeeded as a chemist and pharmacist. He rose to become the chief pharmacist at the Invalides and other institutions of higher learning. The man did not stop there for he had many talents and interests, namely agriculture and civic duty. To these ends, he founded the Journal de Paris for continued scientific presentations on the subject and commanded a local contingent of the National Guard. It was at his time in Franconville that he also befriended American Revolutionary Ben Franklin, a renaissance man himself. The two extraordinary men undoubtedly had much in common. Today the chateau and park are open to the public to continue the agrarian and scientific legacy of Cadet de Vaux.
No End without a Beginning
As always, the Tour de France ends triumphantly ushering its champion into the hallowed streets of Paris on the 21st stage of the race. This year’s Tour starts the peloton where the first Tour de France commenced in 1903. Indeed, the world’s greatest race started right here in Montgeron, then a separate city just outside Paris, a mere twenty-two kilometers from the Arc de Triumph. It is amazing to think that a race that has come to be defined by pomp and circumstance and heroes and villains in such iconic ways had a rather unassuming start. On the morning of July 1, 2903, sixty riders gathered outside the café Au Reveil Matin in Montgeron. They were surrounded by a throng of spectators who were eager to see the daredevils crazy enough to take on this feat. That first stage impelled the riders on a 467 kilometer journey to Lyon. The Tour was a different beast in those days. Today, the Reveil Matin still stands on the corner of Avenue Jean Jaures and the Route de Corbeil. The surrounding scenery has changed, but the building, surprisingly, has not, with the exception of some aesthetic alterations. On the opposite roundabout is a monument to the Tour de France and a window display and wall plaque on the building itself recognize the symbolic importance of this place in history. In some ways, this humble beginning of the Tour de France remind us of what cycling is about, even today. Is it really surprising that the Tour started at a café surrounded by enthralled fans? Through all the ceremonies, the sport continues to be about access to enthusiasts and an inspiration for common good.