A solitary boat stands moored under the foliage of Place du Préau. Over the years, it has accommodated several restaurants.
By what twist of fate has this vessel found itself stranded in the vast lake in the grounds of the prefecture building, in an isolated body of water? How on earth did this solitary boat get here in the first place?
The answer is simple: this crisp, white boat arrived here by road! Some 30 years ago, an oversized lorry travelled along the N19 from the port of Nogent-sur-Seine to unload its precious cargo. This event was as unusual as it was spectacular, since there had been no boats on the prefecture lake since the start of the Second World War.
The fact that the boat travelled here by road symbolises the history of this illfated canal. The canal’s story began back in imperial times, during the reign of Napoleon I. He visited Troyes in 1805 and, in response to the town’s calls for a navigable waterway, he decreed that “less than six years from now, stagecoaches and boats will be able to travel along the Seine from Paris to Bar-sur-Seine and beyond” – in other words, in both directions from Troyes.
The first section of the Haute Seine canal between Troyes and Marcilly-sur-Seine (Marne), downstream of Troyes, was opened to vessels in 1846, a full quarter of a century after the death of Napoleon, proving his initial ambitions to be rather optimistic at best. The second section, which was supposed to reach all the way to Châtillon-sur-Seine (Côte-d’Or), upstream of Troyes, was never fully completed, instead stopping at Bar-sur-Seine. To make matters worse, this section of the canal was never actually used by vessels. In some locations, to great surprise, no sooner had the canal been filled with water, than it emptied again! After 20 years of fruitless endeavour, the dream of connecting the new canal with the Burgundy canal ended in failure.
This portion of the Haute Seine canal earned the rather unfortunate nickname of the “canal without water”. Numerous traces of its route remain to this day. Troyes would therefore remain forever a terminal point for river traffic. Boats would make two daily return trips between Paris and the capital of the Aube département to transport goods.
The final boat, complete with its cargo of sugar, was unloaded in the former port of Troyes in 1940. The current prefecture lake stands on the site of this former port. It is now a favoured location for anglers and the final resting place of our solitary vessel. Having fallen into disuse, the canal was filled in in the early 1960s. The water continues to flow in vast buried pipelines beneath new, sprawling roads and avenues. One section of the canal in Troyes, however, was spared the concrete tomb fate that befell the rest of the waterway and quickly became a favoured holiday spot for local residents and visitors alike. This section marks the dividing line between the head and the body of the champagne cork, like a cord that ties together the two parts of the old town – the upper quarter and the lower quarter.