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Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, a motto literally encrusted everywhere

May 2, 2012

As most European cities, Paris is characterized by a motto, yet, very few Parisians would be able to quote it, although it is engraved almost everywhere in the city. This is not surprising however since the presence of that motto can largely go unnoticed but once you know about  it, you’ll get to see it every step on a stroll through Paris, from public buildings like schools, museums, train stations to streetlights, bridges, fountains… It is even engraved on the firefighters’ helmets!

“Fluctuat Nec Mergitur”, to name it, is a latin quote that literally means “He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it” … It became Paris’ official motto in November 1853 upon Baron Haussmann’s unilateral decision.

It refers to the fact that Paris at Roman times, or Lutetia as it was then called, was barely a fishermen village by the banks of the River Seine. The fishermen used to gather to form a corporation that controlled and ruled the trade exchanges taking place on the river. The motto is symbolized by a ship with either one or three poles floating over turbulent water. In many cases, the ship is surmounted by three towers to remind us that the history and the rise of Paris are closely entangled with the River Seine.
Most of the signs scattered all around the city are pretty ancient, often more than a century old, which explains why they may be dilapidated and thus easy to miss, but the symbol is still used today in a modernized version on more recent buildings, such as the Morris columns or even the public toilets!

 You can also hear the motto in one of Georges Brassens’ most famous song, “Les copains d’abord”: 

“Ses fluctuat nec mergitur

C’était pas d’la littérature

N’en déplaise aux copains de sort

Aux copains de sort »

Now that you are aware of its presence, the search for the motto may start, but stay on the look-out,  details with the motto are legion! And if you want to be sure not to miss any signs, here is a non-exhaustive list of places where you can easily spot them:

– Passage du Grand Cerf (75001)

– 6, rue Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois (75001)

– Fountain of the Place Malraux (75001)

– 1, rue Louis le Grand (75002)

– Bourse du  travail, 67 rue de Turbigo (75003)

– Musée Carnavalet (75004)

– Paris City Hall (75004)

– 19, rue des Boulangers (75005)

– Institut Catholique de Paris, 21, rue d’Assas (75006)

– Fountain in front of Saint-Sulpice (75006)

– Streetlamps of the Alexandre III Bridge (75007)

– Main gate of the Petit Palais (75008)

– Top of the Saint-Lazare church (75008)

– Main gate of the Gare de l’Est (75010)

– La Motte Piquet Grenelle Metro Station (75015)

– 3, rue Doudeauville (75018)

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2012 9:08 pm

    I have always loved this optimistic motto (which makes all the more sense this week with all this damn rain!).

    • May 2, 2012 9:19 pm

      May is supposed to be one of the nicest month to visit Paris… This year may be an exception…

  2. May 2, 2012 9:43 pm

    thank you a mystery solved for me but I am sure never noticed by the casual visitor to Paris, I will try to pass it on in a tweet.

  3. Henrietta Richer permalink
    May 3, 2012 5:10 pm

    Well I never knew that and what a great motto. Love the photos too.
    I’ve shared your article on my blog
    I hope that’s ok. Let me know if it’s not.

  4. May 3, 2012 7:09 pm

    Thanks a lot for your comment! It’s an honor to be on your blog which is great by the way!

  5. May 4, 2012 8:39 pm

    More photos available on the facebook page:

  6. Cheryl Hammill permalink
    December 8, 2012 8:59 pm

    Well thank you for that history lesson as I did actually notice this on two occasions and wondered at the significance of it. Question solved!

  7. April 9, 2013 8:53 am

    this is our aim this week visiting Paris, to notch up as many as we can!

    • April 9, 2013 9:08 am

      Good luck then! Once you’ll notice them, you’ll see them everywhere!

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