When researching cities with hidden waterways, most have examples that were forced underground in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the western French city of Bordeaux, there are two hidden streams that haven’t seen daylight in centuries.
Above is a map of Bordeaux drafted shortly before the French Revolution. Two rivers are seen flowing towards it. The Peugue in dark blue and the Devèze in aqua. At the city’s edge, they disappear beneath the streets on their way to the Garonne River.
Here’s a photo that may be a stage set for an Aladdin revival, an idealized Middle Eastern city. The caption in this 1920s postcard and the flags identifies it as Basra, Iraq, a city on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway that contains many canals within it, earning the nickname Venice of the East.
I don’t expect to be visiting Basra during my lifetime, but I know that this postcard image dates to a more peaceful time in this storied city.
Prior marrying me, my wife resided in the Outremont section of Montreal, where we took strolls in Pratt Park. It is one of eight parks designed between 1910 and 1931 by a legendary local trio: engineer Émile Lacroix, landscape architect Aristide Beaugrand-Champagne and horticulturalist Thomas Barnes.
Three of them, Saint Viateur, Outremont, and Beaubien, have artificial ponds with fountains. Pratt Park was the most special of these, not only because this is where I dated my wife-to-be, but also because it has two ponds connected by a stream, with an isle, and a waterfall. It is a miniature Central Park within a single city block.
At the tip of southeast Asia is the city-state of Singapore. Its tropical climate and hilly terrain means that there are plenty of hidden waterways flowing through this little republic. The Singapore River shares the country’s name flowing through its Downtown Core on the way to the sea. The furthest reaching tributary of this river is Alexandra Canal.
Considering the density of Singapore and its long history of neglecting such waterways, what has become of Alexandra Canal?
At the city’s extreme northeast is Pelham Bay Park, a vast greensward that is three times the size of Central Park. One could not feel more distant from the city when visiting the park’s destinations: Orchard Beach, Bartow-Pell Mansion, Split Rock Golf Course, and the trails of Hunter Island and Twin Islands. On the inland side of the park is the Hutchinson River, known to most New Yorkers as the namesake of the parkway that follows its course.
The river has a history relating to the conflict among Puritan colonists in New England that led to the English annexation of New Netherlands.
A half hour to the east of my home in Queens is the suburban community of West Hempstead. With some of my friends priced out of the city when seeking houses, this was their village of choice. Like many towns, it has its own waterway with a history, hidden behind backyards in some spots, and widening into a pond that is the centerpiece of the community.
Halls Pond is the premier public space in West Hempstead, where the water of Pine Stream gathers in a beautiful 11-acre park.
The imperial “northern capital” of Russia, Saint Petersburg is a city of many names such as Venice of the North for its many canals. On its northern side is a hidden waterway with a rich history whose name in English translates to “Black River.”
The river has a place in history as a dueling site where Russia’s most famous poet was fatally wounded. That makes its name appropriate from a poetic viewpoint.
In the years prior to the Second World War, my grandfather lived in Bucharest where he worked at his uncle’s workshop. In contrast to his humble hometown, the Romanian capital aspired to be the Paris of Eastern Europe with its wide boulevards, triumphal arch, majestic palaces, and an urban waterway lined with trees and benches.
In the postcard above, found on a local history blog, we see the Dâmbovița River flowing straight through the city, with neatly planted trees on either bank. In the corner is a postage stamp featuring the country’s boy-king Mihai (Michael), who first sat on his throne at age five. The river has seen plenty of changes in its host city since the founding of the country.
Ten miles shy of its entry into the Baltic Sea, the Daugava River passes through the city of Riga. Within the borders of Latvia’s capital city, the nation’s great river give up some of its water to bifurcation streams before uniting again and emptying into the sea. The cradle of industry in Riga is the Sarkandaugava, a branch of the Daugava that flows around Kundziņsala, the largest island within the city’s borders.
This hidden Riga stream flows through traces of every period in the city’s history and holds the key to its future, as the gateway to Riga for seaborne goods.
The Sri Lankan capital of Colombo is a city crossed by canals, a legacy of colonial rule in this South Asian island nation. The longest canal within the city is Sebastian Canal, which connects Beira Lake with the Kelani Ganga river.
Above, the canal flows beneath Khettarama Temple Road, near a small picturesque stupa nestled between oil tanks and a cricket stadium. Continue reading