If you’ve ever taken a boat trip on the Seine in Paris, the guy above at the Pont de l’Alma will have been pointed out to you. He’s a Zouave soldier and he’s an indicator of how high the magnificent Seine has risen.
You’ll see he doesn’t appear to be quite in the style of the bridge he’s now a part of – the original bridge was opened in 1856 but the one he now stands at was a replacement, constructed in the 1970s.
His exotic outfit is the typical uniform of the Zouave battalion, part of the French army between 1831 and 1962 and often fighting in North Africa. Baggy red trousers (white in summer), a short embroidered jacket, fez and cloak differentiated these soldiers from the others and they were known as fierce warriors.
When the water reaches his feet, the banks alongside the Seine are closed to the public. The river is unnavigable when it hits his thighs. And this is a photo of how high the water reached during the 1910 flood …
Here’s a picture of two real Zouaves taken at some time between 1855 and 1865 by Roger Fenton during the Crimean War:
One hundred years after the great flood that saw the boat become the vehicle of choice on Paris streets …
… flood again threatened Paris:
In late December the water reached all the way up to his ankles. Not quite as dramatic, but still a reminder that this is likely to happen again. And the proud Zouave watches and waits.