When is the Seine not the Seine?

Turns out we've all been calling the famous river by the wrong name!

Few things are more Parisian than the Seine; the famous waterway that divides the city of Paris into its iconic left and right banks. The Seine is an integral part of city life in Paris and one can regularly find locals and visitors alike taking a stroll across one of the thirteen bridges that cross the river or enjoying a picnic along the river’s banks. Depicted in literature, songs and countless pieces of art, the Seine River has become synonymous with Paris.

But what if the Seine wasn’t really the Seine? Yes, it’s true. The Parisian river we all refer to as the Seine should actually be called the Yonne! When two waterways meet and merge together, the resulting river is typically named after the largest branch (by water volume). The Seine, which flows at a rate of 80 m3 per second, is slower than the Yonne, which flows at a rate of 93 m3 per second. The two rivers meet at Montereau-Fault-Yonne, which is 75 kilometers south of Paris. Technically, the resulting river should be named after the strongest of the two combined waterways: the Yonne.

So why do we call the river that runs through Paris the Seine? This mistake can be traced back to antiquity. In Gallo-Roman religion, Sequana was the goddess of the springs at the source of the river Seine. Then, in the third century, the Parisii tribe became powerful because it controlled the traffic on the Seine. As their main city developed into what we now know as Paris, the Seine maintained its cultural and political importance. Today, the Seine has had too big of an effect on Parisian history to change its name. Just imagine replacing “Seine” with “Yonne” in one of the following famous quotes about Paris:

I could spend my whole life watching the Seine Yonne flow by. It is a poem of Paris. — Blaise Cendrars

A final reminder. Whenever you are in Paris at twilight in the early summer, return to the Seine Yonne and watch the evening sky close slowly on a last strand of daylight fading quietly, like a sigh. –Kate Simon

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