Bercy Vineyard and Warehouses
A witness to the past
The Park of Bercy has a few vines to remind us that once its wine stocks were the most important in the world. In 1996, 682m² of vines of sauvignon and chardonnay grapes and 341m² of table wine grapes were planted in the “Yitzak Rabin” garden, situated in Bercy Park (12th arrondissement). Bercy was the obligatory passing point for the majority of wines and eau de vie which were brought to the capital by water, mainly from Burgundy and Beaujolais. The first wine depot built in Bercy under Louis XIV marked the beginning of three centuries of uninterrupted activity.
The barrels destined for the capital arrived by boat on the Seine River and were unloaded and placed on the quays of Bercy. The wine merchants didn’t pay taxes because the depots were situated outside of Paris. In 1878 the town of Paris gave Bercy its first official depot.
Bercy was called “happy Bercy”, because the whole of popular and worldly Paris crushed into the dancehalls that had invested the banks of the Seine. The wine, which was much cheaper than in Paris, flowed through the Rocher de Cancale, the Marroniers and the Soleil d’Or. On Sundays and holidays the festivities animated the riverbanks. There were jousts, and fireworks….
Regrettably, the vast storage areas and docks once devoted to wine have either been demolished or reduced to a kind of mall with not a single museum or reference to the vine. When much of the area was being reorganised in 1991, the rich history of Bercy was to reveal itself as ancient pirogues, flat bottom dug out canoes were found along with a bow made of yew that has been dated back to the 5th millennium BC, making it one of the oldest ever found.
The beginnings of Bercy
The area was originally marshland and at the time of the Gauls and the Romans the area was not inhabited, though would be far later when the marshes were drained. According to legend, the name Bercy comes from the island located in the estuary of the River Seine that was called Belsinaca, which is where Celtic tribes once constructed huts in around the year 850. Yet it was not until the 12th century that the name of Bercy became official, when King Louis VI gave a donation to the Montmartre Abbey, which is where the convent was set up and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Montmartre church was constructed on top of Montmartre hill. However, it was only in 1415 that the first seigneury was established, which is where parts of land are granted by the King to certain people, and this area was owned by the Montmorency and towards the end of the century by the Malon family. Near the end of the 1600s, the Lord of Bercy, Charles Henry de Malon asked for a castle to be built, and the gardens were designed by Le Notre.
The next stage of Bercy
In the year 1704 King Louis XIV was attending a service at Notre Dame de Bercy and subjects were meant to kneel before the king, but according to reports, there was one man who remained standing. Considered a crime against the king, a guard was sent to put a stop to this, but the king was actually amused by the large gentleman, who was actually a wine grower, and he took advantage of the situation to complain to the King about the difficulties he had with his business. The king decided to grant him a bit of leeway and ensured that the gentleman could sell his wine completely free of taxes, but only in the area of Bercy, and hence the first wine cellar of Bercy was born.
Bercy until the late 1900s
The municipality of Bercy was first constituted in 1790, following the creations of different municipalities by the National assembly, yet it was not until January 1860 that Bercy was fully integrated into Paris. And gradually over time, especially after the French Revolution, the number of wine cellars increased dramatically and eventually it became the largest wine market worldwide. So, on an area of around 43 hectares where traffic was limited and only accessible to wine merchants and their clients, bar a train track that used to also travel through the area, there were numerous wine bars along with guinguettes, which were basically open air cafes. It became the 'in place' for people to go and enjoy not only the wine but the festivities such as fairground attractions and fireworks that were frequent in Bercy, not forgetting the people that used to enjoy rowing on the River Seine. However, there have been many catastrophes that have plagued the Bercy area over the years including major fires and also major flooding, especially in 1910 when the River Seine overflowed and the whole of Bercy became like a lake village for a while. As time went on, more and more of the area was abandoned and most of the wine cellars were demolished. The Pavillons de Bercy that remain are some of the last examples of the architecture of this period. During the 1970s a plan was put in place to redevelop this part of Paris.
Bercy from 1979 to the present
It was in 1979 that the city of Paris launched the start of the redevelopment of the area with the construction of the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, which is a sports and concert stadium called the POPB for short. There was also a large area designated for a park in Paris aptly named the Parc de Bercy that includes a kitchen garden and rose garden, similar to those that were originally there in the 19th century. But there are also modern flats designed by Christian de Portzamparc on one side of the park, who also designed the Cite de la Musique in the Parc de la Villette. Another area is known as the Coeur Saint Emilion, but this is often referred to as Bercy Village where urban planners integrated shopping, leisure, culture, restaurants and cafes, in a rather failed attempt to mimic Covent Garden in London.