Seine, Lat. Sequana, river, c.480 mi (770 km) long, rising in the Langres Plateau and flowing generally NW through N France. It passes Troyes, Melun, and Paris, whence it meanders in large loops through Normandy, past Rouen, and empties into the English Channel in an estuary between Le Havre and Honfleur. With its tributaries (the Aube, Marne, Oise, Yonne, Loing, and Eure) and connecting canals, it drains the entire Paris basin. One of the most navigable rivers in France, it has been a great commercial artery since Roman times. The channel of the Seine is dredged and oceangoing vessels can dock at Rouen. Much of France's internal and foreign trade moves on the Seine. Paris, Rouen, and Le Havre owe their prosperity to their favorable location on the river.

The Seine (in French) is a slow flowing major river and commercial waterway within the regions of Île-de-France and Haute-Normandie in France and famous as a romantic backdrop in photographs of Paris, France. It is also a tourist attraction, with excursion boats offering sightseeing tours of the Rive Droite and Rive Gauche within the city of Paris. It terminates in the Bay of the Seine region of the English Channel and is navigable by oceanic transports about ten percent of its length to Rouen, 120 km (75 miles) from the sea, whereas over sixty percent of its length from Burgundy near the Swiss Alps is negotiable by commercial riverboats and nearly it's whole length is available for recreational boating.

There are over three dozen bridges over the River Seine just within Paris and dozens more spanning the river outside of the city. Examples in Paris include the Pont Louis-Philippe and Pont Neuf, the latter which dates back to 1607. Outside of the city, examples include the Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges in the world, which links Le Havre to Honfleur.

Origin of the name

The name "Seine" comes from the Latin Sequana. This is turn has been said to come from Gaulish (Celtic) Sicauna, which is argued to mean "sacred river". Some have argued that Sicauna is cognate to the names of Saône River and the River Shannon. Another proposal has it that Sequana is the Latin version of Gaulish Isicauna, which would be the diminutive of Icauna, which was the Gaulish name of the Yonne River. The ancient Gauls considered the Seine to be a tributary of the Yonne, which indeed presents a greater average discharge than the Seine (the river flowing through Paris would be called Yonne if the standard rules of geography were applied).

Some identify the river Sikanos, place of original (according to Thucydides) of the Sicanoi of Sikelia (Sicily), with the river Sequana (Seine).

Further downstream in what is now Normandy, the Seine was known as Rodo, or Roto, which is a traditional Celtic name for rivers, and is also the original name of the Rhône River (see Rhône article for further explanations). This is proved by the name of Rouen, which was Rotomagos in Gaulish, meaning "field, plain (magos in Gaulish, whose meaning evolved into "market") of the Roto".


The Seine is dredged and oceangoing vessels can dock at Rouen, 120 km (75 miles) from the sea. Commercial riverboats can use the river from Bar-sur-Seine, 560 km (350 miles) from its mouth. At Paris, the river is only 24 metres (80 feet) above sea level, 446 km (277 miles) from its mouth, making it slow flowing and thus easily navigable. It is 776 km (486 miles) long and flows into the Atlantic Ocean from the continent.

The tidal section of the river, from Le Havre to well beyond Rouen, is followed by a canalized section with four large multiple locks until the mouth of the Oise river at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. Then two more multiple locks at Bougival / Chatou and at Suresnes lift the vessels to the level of the river in Paris, where the mouth of the Marne River is located. Upstream from Paris seven more locks ensure navigation to Saint Mammès (where the Loing mouth is situated). Through an eighth lock the river Yonne is reached at Montereau-Fault-Yonne. From the mouth of the Yonne, larger ships can continue upstream the Seine till Nogent-sur-Seine. From there on, the river is only navigable for small craft. All navigation ends abruptly at Marcilly-sur-Seine, where the ancient Canal de la Haute Seine used to allow vessels to continue all the way to Troyes. This canal has been abandoned for many years now.

The average depth of the Seine today at Paris is about eight metres. Until locks were installed to artificially raise the level in the 1800s, however, the river was much shallower within the city most of the time, and consisted only of a small channel of continuous flow bordered by sandy banks (depicted in many illustrations of the period). Today depth is tightly controlled and the entire width of the river between the built-up banks on either side is normally filled with water. The average flow of the river is very low, only a few cubic metres per second, but much higher flows are possible during periods of heavy runoff. Special reservoirs upstream help to maintain a constant level for the river through the city, but during periods of extreme runoff significant increases in river level may or may not occur.

A very severe period of high water in January 1910 produced extensive flooding throughout the city. The Seine again rose to threatening levels in 1924, 1955, 1982 and 1999-2000. After a first-level flood alert in 2003, about 100,000 works of art were moved out of Paris, the largest relocation of art since World War II. Much of the art in Paris is kept in underground storage rooms that would be flooded. A 2002 report by the French government stated the worst-case Seine flood scenario would cost 10 billion Euros, cut telephone service for a million Parisians, leave 200,000 without electricity and 100,000 without gas.

Water quality

Periodically the sewerage systems of Paris experience a failure known as sanitary sewer overflow, often in periods of high rainfall. Under these conditions untreated sewage has been discharged into the Seine. The resulting oxygen deficit is principally caused by allochthonous bacteria larger than one micrometer in size. The specific activity of these sewage bacteria is typically three to four times greater than that of the autochthonous (background) bacterial population. The pH level of the Seine at Pont Neuf has been measured to be 8.46


Legend has it that after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, her ashes were thrown into the Seine, though counter-claims persist into the present-day.

According to his will, Napoleon, who died in 1821, wished to be buried on the banks of the Seine, a request that was not granted.

Until the 1930s, a towing system using a chain on the bed of the river existed to facilitate movement of barges upriver.

The Seine River was one of the original objectives of Operation Overlord in 1944. The Allies' intention was to reach the Seine by D+90 (ie 90 days after D-Day). That objective was met. An anticipated assault crossing of the river never materialized as German resistance in France crumbled by early September 1944. However, the First Canadian Army did encounter resistance immediately west of the Seine and fighting occurred in the Forêt de la Londe as Allied troops attempted to cut off the escape across the river of parts of the German 7th Army in the closing phases of the Battle of Normandy.

Some of the victims of the Paris massacre of 1961 drowned in the Seine after being thrown off from the Pont Saint-Michel and other locations in Paris.

Dredging in the 1960s mostly eliminated tidal bores on the river, known as “le mascaret.”

In 1991, the banks of the Seine in Paris—the Rive Gauche and Rive Droite—were added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in Europe.

The river is popular site for suicides and the disposal of bodies of murder victims. In 2007, 55 bodies were retrieved from its waters; in February 2008, the body of supermodel-turned-activist Katoucha Niane was found there.


During the 19th and the 20th centuries, the Seine has inspired many painters including:

In arts and popular culture

  • In Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables, Jean Valjean escapes from the sewers on the banks of the Seine. Waiting there is Inspector Javert, who regretfully allows him to escape. Javert, contemplating what he had just done, decides to throw himself to his death in the river.
  • According to legend, the death mask of a young woman's body pulled from the Seine has inspired several 20th century artists, including Vladimir Nabokov and Rainer Maria Rilke.
  • David Lanz wrote a piano solo piece entitled Leaves on the Seine in his album, Nightfall.
  • Down In The Seine is a song from The Style Council's album Our Favourite Shop
  • This river appears in Call of Duty 3 as a multiplayer map, named Seine river.
  • The Decemberists have a song on their "Castaways and Cutouts" album titled, "The Legionnaire's Lament", which entails a legionnaire longing to return to France and the "sweetly sleeping sweeping of the Seine".
  • of Montreal have a song called "Sink the Seine".
  • in Down and Out in Paris and London, novellist George Orwell in his semi-autobiography was down on his luck with no money to buy food and becomes desperately hungry. He and his Boris tried to fish dace in river Seine but was unsuccessful. He commented many years later that the fish became very cunning after the Siege of Paris, which why it was futile exercise to try to catch them.


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