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Exhibition of the Ministry of Public Works -

Exhibition of the Ministry of Public Works at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

On entering the Champ de Mars palace by the Rapp gate, one finds immediately on the right the very remarkable exhibition of the Ministry of Public Works. There> have been tastefully arranged the models of the principal works of art executed in France in recent years. Only special men will ever know what study, skill, tenacity, intelligence, and even genius were required to accomplish these feats of strength, these marvels.

The masterpieces scattered in all the corners of our country, often in the most deserted places, sometimes even built underground, will only ever be seen by a very small number of people; but the Ministry of Public Works has entrusted a certain number of private builders with the task of reproducing in small scale the monuments erected by the engineers. These scale models, executed with absolute fidelity, often using the same materials that were used to construct the buildings themselves, have been exhibited in the Galerie des Machines, while waiting to be added to the precious collections of the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées and the Atelier des Phares, which are unfortunately not open to the public.

The models, like the monuments they represent, were built with that scientific precision and artistic feeling which distinguish all that our country does. All the proportions are so carefully observed that it seems as if the locomotives must be running on these bridges, the water bubbling in these locks, the waves scooping up the lighthouses that one would hold in one's hands! The scale is usually 1 metre for 25 metres. This is France and this is Lilliput.

As a complement to its exhibition, the Ministry has published a volume of interesting notes on the buildings whose models or drawings are on display. We know of more than one publicist who has often borrowed extensively from this publication, which is full of unpublished information, without saying anything.

Let us begin by studying the models of the buildings of Paris. With the monuments before our eyes we can judge the accuracy of the representation, and we will then easily admit the accuracy of the other reliefs.

In our time, it is the railways that give rise to the most important works everywhere. We see the reproduction of three of the most remarkable works of art of the Chemin de Ceinture, entirely included in Paris as we know: the viaduct of the Avenue Daumesnil, the bridge of Auteuil, the tunnel of Ivry. Later on, these models will be placed at the School next to the model of the Napoleon bridge, one of the most important structures of the beltway, which is already there.

The elegant viaduct built by the city at the end of the Avenue Daumesnil, for the passage of the railway, was to contribute to the general ornamentation of this avenue leading to the Bois de Vincennes; thanks to three gracefully curved metal arches resting on six light columns of bronzed cast iron, the goal has been achieved. We cannot give a better idea of the meticulous perfection of the model than by quoting the words of a workman who remarked before us that "the gas spouts were in the lanterns and that all they needed was to be lit. "This perfection can be found everywhere and we will say no more about it.

The Auteuil viaduct is one of the most remarkable buildings in Paris. Composed of 225 arches, its length is 1610 meters, it extends from Auteuil to Javel and passes over a monumental bridge that is admired by the most indifferent. It is 175 metres long and has two levels, the lower level is for cars and pedestrians, the upper level for wagons, which run twenty-one metres above the Seine. The exposed relief allows us to see that this bridge is no less curious on the inside than it is magnificent on the outside. Above each pier, between it and the deck, there are chambers, closed on the outside, forming three transverse naves cut by eight transepts. The two portions of the viaduct with which the bridge connects are, near the river, supported by a lower viaduct entirely hidden in the embankments.

The Ivry tunnel was built in the midst of unprecedented difficulties, because underneath the tunnel there were ancient catacombs. The relief gives a slight idea of this. Seen from one side, it represents the unfinished tunnel; on the opposite side it shows it at the beginning of the work.
From the tunnel (which is only 200 metres long), iron ladders allow you to descend into the fallen quarries, the consolidation of which offered so many dangers. In these quarries, two retaining walls have been built along the length of the tunnel to support the tunnel built above. In the thickness of each of these walls, a gallery has been built to check on the state of the work.

Natural cavities formed in the catacombs by the collapse of the quarry skies are called bells. As fate would have it, one of these bells was located precisely under the tunnel. It had to be filled at all costs, but the danger was imminent; at the slightest movement, stones and earth would fall from the vault, threatening to knock out or bury the workers. The workers fled in terror, abandoning their wages. Only the engineers, led by Mr. Bellom, remained at their posts with a courage as great and more profitable than that of the man of war. Everyone knows the marine worm which travels in a sort of limestone tube secreted by itself as it advances and from which it withdraws at the first alarm. The same procedure was used. The workers, taking shelter under the very gallery they were building, circumscribed the walls of the bell. The top of the bell was supported by a strong floor and it was finally possible to vault the hole and fill it with earth.

The ring road on the left bank was built at the State's expense by Mr. de Bassompierre, chief engineer of the Ponts et Chaussées, assisted by Messrs. de Villiers and Bellom, engineers.

Three magnificent plans allow us to appreciate at a glance the main works carried out since 1850 in Paris, the water pipes established and the sewers dug in this period. M. Alphand, the creator of all our plantations, has established two parks and twelve squares in Paris, that is air and sunshine, health and strength for the children and the elderly of all districts.

M. Belgrand has established a double water service: sewers and pipes. Look at this interesting model of the Sebastopol sewer at the junction of the quayside collector: there you find boats, wagons, rails, telegraph cables, a drinking water pipe of one meter and ten centimeters in diameter, a sprinkler pipe of eighty centimeters, etc.

Where does the water for these pipes generally come from? From the reservoirs of Ménilmontant, of which this is a reproduction. They are four in number, superimposed two by two, the waters of the Dhuis are collected in the basins of the upper level, those of the Marne are below. These superimposed underground lakes contain 131,000 cubic metres of water. The water of the Dhuis is brought by an aqueduct, that of the Marne comes from the factory established at Saint-Maur. There, a part of the river, diverted in a special canal, falls on two turbines and four turbine-wheels which develop a total force of 680 horsepower used to raise each day fifty million litres of water for the needs of Paris and the Bois de Vincennes.

The model of the Saint-Maur factory would deserve a whole description, but Paris has occupied us too long. Let us first examine the Saint-Sauveur bridge, in the Pyrenees, thrown with incredible skill over a precipice and built with the help of a scaffold mounted in the abyss. Let us now transport ourselves to a remote province, long a laggard and now marching along the path of progress with the ardour of neophytes, Brittany.

The rugged nature of its soil has necessitated gigantic works for the establishment of railways. The famous viaduct of Morlaix, which dominates the town and spans the port at the height of the towers of Notre-Dame, is two-storeyed; the lower storey is composed of nine large arches and the second of fourteen small ones.

For the passage of the road from Brest to Nantes, which already crosses an arm of the sea at Lorient on a metal viaduct, a viaduct more admirable and bolder than that of Morlaix has just been built at the mouth of the Aulne, near Châteaulin. The piers, joined by arches 22 metres wide, rise in a single jet above the sea at the height of the Saint-Jacques tower, and it is at this dizzying height that the trains will pass when the line is opened to traffic. The arches are twelve in number and the length of the bridge is 357 metres. There is no single-storey viaduct in France, as this one is, whose appearance, however light it may be, is so close to the bold grace of these slender arches.
Both viaducts were built with the same indestructible granite which, at a time lost in the past, provided the material for the menhirs and dolmens with which Brittany is populated.

This province forms like a cyclopean pier which advances towards America. A port has been created in Brest to receive the ships and it is already used by transatlantic ships. This port was entirely conquered from the sea. A grandiose process, of which the model gives us an idea, was employed to put in place the artificial blocks, reaching up to 45 cubic meters, which defend the quays and the piers against the waves. These blocks are built with rubble and cement on land and then launched into the sea like a ship; flatboats lift them up with the tide, carry them to their destination and put them in place. Divers wearing diving suits prepare the bed of stones on which the blocks are placed; in addition to their daily pay, they receive four cents for every minute spent underwater.

The new districts that have sprung up around this port have been linked to the old town by a swing bridge that is unique in the world. This bridge, which is the work of M. Oudry, the creator of the Arcole Bridge in Paris, unites the two banks of the military port.

The swing bridge is 174 metres long and the opening between the piers is 106 metres. Finally, its height above the sea exceeds twenty metres, so that it is only necessary to open it for the passage of large warships, with boats passing beneath it. Each of the two flights of the bridge weighs six hundred thousand kilograms and it only takes the efforts of two men to turn it on itself in a few minutes.

Thanks to this work, the city of Brest has grown prodigiously and in ten years the population has increased from 55,000 to 80,000.

There is only one city that can compete with it: Marseille, which today has 300,000 inhabitants and which had only 234,000 in 1856. The development of its trade and shipping has resulted in the present prosperity of the city; this development has been made possible by the creation of artificial ports, for the admirable natural port of Marseilles had become completely inadequate.

A vast model, a real relief painting, shows us the construction of these new ports, from the throwing of the blocks used to form the body of the dyke, to the execution of the parapets. The parts of the dykes closest to the surface of the sea are made of artificial blocks; underneath are placed the natural blocks, which decrease in size until they reach the deepest parts where the quarry debris is poured. In order to build these ports, mountains were blown up and the debris was transported to the sea to build the piers. In the place of one of these mountains thrown into the Mediterranean, - the one used to build the port of La Joliette, - a beautiful new district has been built.

This will give an idea of the forces that man dares to bring into play today. At one point, one hundred thousand cubic metres of blocks were needed at once. A mine was loaded with fifty-two thousand pounds of gunpowder, ignited with the electric spark, and the goal was reached.

At the end of next year, Marseille, which twenty years ago had only one port of 29 hectares in area with 2700 metres of quays, will have six ports with a total area of 138 hectares, surrounded by 14 kilometres of quays.

Elsewhere, dykes were used to narrow the riverbed, which is mainly what happened in the Seine Maritime.

A double map shows the dykes built between La Mailleraye and Berville-sur-Mer. The Seine formed an estuary in front of Quillebeuf, filled with mud banks and shifting sands; by creating a dyked channel, navigation became safe and easy, the dreaded sertis were transformed into fertile polders, and an area of 86 square kilometres was gained from the sea, enlarging France. Many a cruel war has not had a similar conquest. The bar, which made the navigation of the Seine more dangerous than that of the tropical ocean, the dreaded tidal bore has almost disappeared; the picturesque has lost, but the safety of the sailors has gained. The cost of maintaining the dykes is 150,000 francs. The annual saving for navigation resulting from the dyking of the Seine is three and a half million francs. Thirteen and a half million francs have been spent on the construction work, and the value of the meadows created is twenty-one and a half million. Do we think that there are many commercial businesses whose results can be compared to these?

Moreover, the comparison of the expenditure figures often offers very philosophical comparisons. The reclamation of the moors of the Gironde, which cost a million and a half, cured thousands of people of fever, fertilised uncultivated land which produced nothing, and brought in an annual income of MORE THREE AND A HALF MILLION for an expenditure of fifteen hundred thousand francs made once and for all.

With an equal sum, the city of Saint-Etienne preserved itself from floods and drought by damming a valley and turning it into a reservoir.

The model of this dam exists at the Exhibition, as well as those of all the buildings we are going to talk about. The model of the floating light, a pearl of this great showcase, was made in Dunkirk, in the workshops of Messrs Dericke and Wesemael. That of the Caledonian lighthouse, built with the finish of a timepiece by Mr. Rigolet, was found worthy of being included in one of the trophies raised at the Palais de l'Industrie on the day of the distribution of the awards.

The Banche lighthouse, not far from Saint-Nazaire, built in the open sea on a bank that the waves constantly sweep away, cost 375,000 francs; the New Caledonia lighthouse, the establishment of which could almost single-handedly determine the colonisation of this beautiful possession, cost 228,000 francs; the pretty Triagoz lighthouse in Brittany cost 300,000 francs; finally, the Ruytingen lighthouse, anchored near Dunkirk, cost only 125,000 francs. Each of these lights saved hundreds of sailors from death.

In the harbour of Cherbourg, a fort is being built in the open sea, Fort Chavagnac; near Rochefort, another has just been built in a similar position, Fort Bayard. The base (that is to say, the artificial island on which the fortifications are built), not counting the fort building, its armament, its ammunition, its provisions, the base alone of Fort Chavagnac cost five million; as for the base of Fort Boyard, it cost more than seven million francs.

That is what it costs to have the means to kill human creatures. We dare not compare the price of floating fire with that of a battleship. Fortunately, the peoples will soon no longer be rich enough to be able to slit each other's throats.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée