PONT NEUF – LA MONNAIE is a station on the Paris Métro network. All the Paris Métro stations, and the bus stops for that matter, are named after people, places or events that are significant to France and the French and in some Métro stations, like Pont Neuf – La Monnaie, the interior design reflects the station’s name and its associations.
Pont Neuf – La Monnaie station is part of Métro Line 7 and it’s situated on the Right Bank of the Seine. The trains run through the station on an east – west axis parallel to the river. There are two entrances to the station both on the Quai du Louvre, one is right outside the former La Samaritaine department store and the other is across the Quai du Louvre at the northern end of the Pont Neuf.
Why this Métro station should be called Pont Neuf is obvious since it sits at one end of the Pont Neuf, or New Bridge, which, despite it’s name, is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris. But what about the second part of the station’s name, La Monnaie, where does that come from?
Well, across the Pont Neuf on the Quai de Conti running parallel to the Left Bank of the Seine is the Hôtel de la Monnaie which houses the Monnaie de Paris, the French mint. The Monnaie de Paris has had several homes over the years and for some time it occupied a building in the rue de la Monnaie which today bisects two of the buildings that make up La Samaritaine. One end of the rue de la Monnaie abuts one entrance to the Metro station Pont-Neuf – La Monnaie.
Created in 864, the Monnaie de Paris is France’s oldest institution and it’s responsible for striking and circulating coins. It strikes the official French Euro currency as well as producing collector’s coins, medals, official decorations, works of art and even jewellery. In addition, it also strikes several foreign official currency coins, whether in their entirety (as in the case of Luxembourg, Monaco, and Malta) or in part (as for Greece, Bangladesh, etc.).
Employing some five hundred people, the Monnaie de Paris operates from two sites. On the Quai de Conti in Paris they strike special coins, medals and decorations from precious metals but the everyday circulating coins are struck at the site in Pessac in the south west of France.
The Hôtel de la Monnaie on the Quai de Conti is a neo-classical building designed by the French architect, Jacques-Denis Antoine, and built between 1767–1775. Today, it houses the administration of the Monnaie de Paris, a manufactory and a numismatics museum which is open to the public.
And inside the Métro station Pont Neuf – La Monnaie, as well as listening to the trains passing to and fro, we can see the association with the Monnaie de Paris reflected in the interior design.
Sounds inside the Métro station Pont Neuf – La Monnaie:
On the station’s platforms are large reproductions of various coins, some on the roof of the station …
… and some on the walls.
Display cases show different aspects of the work of the Monnaie de Paris and there is also an historic coin press.
Visiting a station like Pont Neuf – La Monnaie can turn a mundane wait for a Métro train into a fascinating experience.
And as for the Pont Neuf – well, I’ll come to that in another post.
I HAD OCCASION TO visit the French Ministry of Finance last week, the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances.
The Ministry building is in the Boulevard de Bercy and, along with the Louvre Pyramid, the Musee d’Orsay, Parc de la Villette, Institut du Monde Arabe, Opéra Bastille, Grande Arche de La Défense, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, it’s one of François Mitterand’s Grand Projets, officially known as the Grandes Operations d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme.
Designed by Paul Chemetov and built in 1988, the building is T-shaped, it’s seventy metres in length and, because of height restrictions at the time it was built, it rises to only six levels. The building comprises 225,000 square metres of office space that span the rue de Bercy and stretch as far as La Seine. And it boasts it’s own helipad and a private jetty where the building adjoins the river.
When I went to the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances I went on Métro Line 1 to the Gare de Lyon and then walked along rue de Bercy. On the way back, I took a different route and walked along the full length of the Ministry building to the Seine, then across the Pont de Bercy to the Quai de la Gare Métro station on Line 6.
Of all the lines on the Paris Métro, Line 6 is the one I enjoy most. It runs for 13.6 km (8.5 miles) along a semi-circular route around the southern half of the city between the stations Charles de Gaulle – Étoile in the west and Nation in the east. For 6.1 km (3.8 miles) of the route the trains run above ground from where it’s possible to get a different, and sometimes spectacular, view of the city. The view of the Tour Eiffel as the trains cross the Pont de Bir-Hakeim has to be one of the most spectacular sights on any Métro line in the world.
Métro Line 6 crossing the Pont de Bir-Hakeim
Photo from Wikipedia
Quai de la Gare station is at the intersection of the Quai de la Gare and the Boulevard Vincent Auriol in the 13th arrondissement. It opened on 1st March 1909 and it takes its name from the Quai de la Gare, a wharf on the Left Bank of the Seine in the second half of the eighteenth-century that served the nearby Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. When the wharf was constructed the area was part of the village of Ivry, which consisted of two main neighbourhoods, one of which was called Quartier de La Gare.
Near to the station, and also taking its name from the Quartier de La Gare, was the Barrière de la Gare, a gate built for the collection of taxation as part of the mur des Fermiers généraux, the Wall of the Farmers-General. The gate was built between 1784 and 1788 and demolished in 1819.
Sounds of Quai de la Gare Station:
With its entrance at street level, the platforms of Quai de la Gare sit above the Boulevard Vincent Auriol and they’re accessed by very narrow escalators to the left and right.
I find the sounds of Métro stations fascinating, partly for the sound of the trains but also for the sound of the spaces in between the trains coming and going.
In 1971 the trains on Line 6 were converted to use rubber tyres. This of course makes the sound of the trains less dramatic than the sound of the metal-wheeled trains, but that’s exactly the point. The conversion to rubber tyres was made to reduce the noise and vibration not only to passengers but also residents near the elevated portions of the line.
The swish of the trains entering and leaving the Quai de la Gare and the clatter of their doors opening and closing sit in contrast to the quieter, but equally interesting, sounds in between. Sitting on the platforms of stations like this waiting for a train it’s easy to miss the depth and texture of these sounds. For me, it’s often only when I listen to recordings of these sounds away from the station and out of context that they actually come alive. Every time I listen I hear something different. I hope you do too.
Here’s some more sights of Quai de la Gare:
Looking out from the platform to the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances
FOR THE SECOND time in the last three months I’ve been to see a newly opened Paris Métro station. In December I went to have a look at Front Populaire, the new terminus at the northern end of Line 12. That station was opened on 18th December and it became the 302nd station on the Paris Métro network.
Last week, I crossed to the south of Paris to visit the latest addition to the Paris Métro network, the 303rd station, Mairie de Montrouge, which now becomes the new southern terminus of Line 4. The station was officially opened on 23rd March by Frédéric Cuvillier, Junior Minister for Transport and the Maritime Economy.
The extension to Mairie de Montrouge is the first extension of Métro Line 4 since its construction was completed in 1910. For over a hundred years Line 4 ran within the Paris city boundaries from Porte de Clignancourt in the north to Porte d’Orléans in the south. The extension to Mairie de Montrouge now takes Line 4 beyond the city limits into the suburbs.
At a cost of over €152 million, the extension is 780 metres long and the work took five years to complete.
In yet another example of RATP’s joined up thinking, Mairie de Montrouge station links with three RATP bus routes, 68, 126 and 128 as well as with the SQYBUS (Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) network.
Sounds inside Mairie de Montrouge station:
Inside, the new station has a bright and airy feel to it in part due to the use of natural light coming through the glass panels set into the roof which also form part of the concourse outside the station.
Glass panels set into the concourse outside which provide natural light inside the station:
The seats both inside and outside are quite comfortable despite their rather futuristic look.
The station has two entrances at the moment. The main entrance is on the parvis of l’Eglise Saint-Jacques le Majeur.
There is a second entrance at Place du Général-Leclerc and a third entrance, opposite the Mairie, is under construction and is due to open next year.
Extending the line to Mairie de Montrouge is only the first stage of the southern extension of Line 4. In 2014 work will begin on a further extension with two new stations, Verdun Sud and Bagneux. These stations are planned to open in 2019.
Mairie de Montrouge (The Town Hall)
Until 2011, the trains on Line 4, the MP 59, were the oldest on the Paris Métro system, some of them 50 years old. During 2011 and 2012 newer MP 89 trains, formerly running on Line 1 but now redundant since the automation of that line, were cascaded to Line 4 making for quicker and more comfortable journeys.
With 154 million passengers a year, Line 4, the second busiest line on the system after Line 1, now has faster and more comfortable trains taking passengers further than ever.
TWO DAYS AGO, on Friday 8th February 2013, I found myself in Charonne station on Line 9 of the Paris Métro. At first sight, it’s just an ordinary Métro station with nothing in particular to commend it. But, as I walked into the station, passed through the ticket barrier and waited for my train on the platform, I couldn’t help thinking about the terrible event that took place here on 8th February, 1962, 51 years ago to the day.
Waiting and thinking at Charonne station:
On that day in 1962, the Paris police were responsible for the the massacre of nine people in the stairwell of Charonne station, an event that is remembered each year by a short ceremony and the laying of wreaths on the spot where the massacre took place. To get to my platform, I walked into the same stairwell and stopped to look at the tributes that had been left after this year’s ceremony which had taken place an hour or so earlier.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, France was embroiled in the Algerian War of Independence. By the time the French Government had come to the conclusion that Algeria should be granted independence the war had moved onto the streets of Paris. On the one side was the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), the Algerian nationalist movement who were fighting for Algerian independence and on the other, the OAS (Organisation armée secrète), the French dissident paramilitary organisation attempting to prevent Algeria’s secession from French governance. Both sides resorted to extreme violence including sabotage, bombings, and assassinations.
On 5 October 1961, the chief of the Paris police, Maurice Papon, (one time French Nazi convicted in 1998 for crimes against humanity for his part in the deportation of Jews from France during WWII) announced a curfew from 8.30 pm to 5.30 am in Paris and its suburbs for “Algerian Muslim workers”, “French Muslims” and “French Muslims of Algeria”. In response the French Federation of the FLN called upon the whole of the Algerian population in Paris to demonstrate against the curfew on 17 October. In the event, some 30,000 pro-FLN Algerians took to the streets. Their demonstration had not been sanctioned by the prefecture de police, headed by Papon, and the response by the police was brutal in the extreme. In fact, it was a massacre.
It took the French Government until 1998 to admit that the massacre had taken place in 1961 and that 48 demonstrators had been killed, although the generally accepted view is that the death toll was around 200.
On 8 February 1962, another demonstration, also prohibited by the police, took place near Charonne metro station. Police, directed by the same Maurice Papon, blocked the nearby streets before charging the crowd. Some demonstrators tried to take refuge in the entry of the Charonne metro station, but police pursued the crowd into the station and using their weapon of choice, heavy iron plates used around the bases of trees, hurled them down onto demonstrators in the stairwell.
The Police weapon of choice
Eight people were crushed to death or died from head injuries and a ninth died from wounds in hospital. All of the dead, except for a sixteen year-old boy, were members of the Communist Party or union members. There could be no period of denial by the police or the government after this massacre. In 1961, all the victims were Algerian but in 1962, they were French.
The dead were buried in Père Lachaise cemetery near the Mur des Federes and their funerals were attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
On 8 February 2007, 45 years after the event, a commemorative plaque was installed inside the metro station where the massacre occurred.
No one has ever been prosecuted for the massacres in 1961 and 1962 because they fell under the general amnesty for crimes committed during the Algerian War.
On any other day, most of the passengers passing through Charonne station could be forgiven for not thinking about, or even knowing about, the events that took place here 51 years ago. But on Friday, it was especially gratifying to see busy people taking time to stop, read the text on the plaque on the wall and pay their respects.
Our history is important, it should be remembered however unpleasant it may be.
In Charonne station the dead were:
- Jean-Pierre Bernard, 30, draughtsman
- Fanny Dewerpe, 31, secretary
- Daniel Féry, 16, apprentice
- Anne-Claude Godeau, 24, worked for PTT
- Édouard Lemarchand, 41, carpenter
- Suzanne Martorell, 36, worked for L’Humanité
- Hippolyte Pina, 58, mason
- Raymond Wintgens, 44, typographer
Maurice Pochard died in hospital, aged 48
N° 40, RUE DU TÉLÉGRAPHE, in the 20th arrondissement, is the highest point in Paris weighing in at 144.48 metres or 474 feet.
Today, N° 40, rue du Télégraphe, is home to Belleville cemetery occupying land once owned by Louis Michel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau … and this site has a history.
It was on this site in 1792 that Claude Chappe (1763 – 1805), a French physicist, first demonstrated his ingenious semaphore system that eventually spanned the whole of France. Mounted on a series of towers 10 – 15km apart, the system comprised a pair of telescopes and a mechanical semaphore whose arms could be moved to angular positions that corresponded to letters and numbers contained in a codebook.
Chappe’s semaphore, or telegraph, grew to a network of 556 towers covering some 5,000km. This ingenious form of communication was revolutionary since it reduced the time taken to transmit messages over long distances from days to hours or even minutes. The first major achievement came in 1794 when the telegraph informed Parisians of the capture of Condé-sur-l’Escaut from the Austrians less than an hour after it occurred. Chappe’s telegraph became the fastest means of communication of it’s day, a sort of mechanical internet, but it only lasted until the mid 1800’s when it was superseded by the new and even faster electric telegraph.
Looking across the cemetery at N°40 rue du Télégraphe today, two modern towers stand more or less where Chappe’s first semaphore tower once stood. And, given their location, it’s perhaps not surprising that these towers carry a communications antenna providing a firm connection with the past.
As well as being home to Belleville cemetery, today’s rue du Télégraphe is also home to a busy street market which, when I went to explore the story of Claude Chappe, was packing up for the day. I found the ‘end of the day’ sounds unlike the usual Paris street sounds and fascinating enough to include in my Paris Soundscapes archive.
Packing up the market stalls:
Like the rue du Télégraphe, the local Métro station, Télégraphe, takes its name from Claude Chappe’s invention. It’s on Métro Line 11 and it’s one of the deepest stations on the Paris Métro system.
The depth of the station is obvious when looking at the escalator leading up part way from the platforms to the surface. Although escalators of this size are quite common on the London Underground they are quite rare on the Paris Métro.
Télégraphe station is also a little unusual in that the two tracks are separated by a wall giving it more of the feel of a London Underground station than a Paris one. The wall is necessary because the station is built on unstable ground, something I prefer not to think about too much when visiting the station! They do though have holes in the wall so that you can at least get a glimpse of the opposite platform.
I love the sounds of the Paris Métro. The trains, particularly the older trains with metal wheels, seem to come alive as they wheeze and clatter entering and leaving the stations. But it’s not only the sounds of the trains themselves that I enjoy. I find the sounds between the trains coming and going equally fascinating. They almost always have a much softer, more delicate but none the less interesting appeal. The sound of women’s shoes reverberating as they walk along the platforms, the sound of distant, half-heard, conversations, the unzipping of a bag, the rustle of clothing are all very rich sounds that contrast starkly with the very masculine, dominating sounds of the trains. These sounds are always there if you take time to stop and listen.
Métro Station Télégraphe:
Télégraphe may be off the tourist track and you probably won’t find it in a guidebook of Paris but it is worth a visit. Like most places in Paris, hidden or otherwise, it has its history, its sounds and a story to tell.
IT’S NOT OFTEN that one gets the chance to visit a brand new Métro station and travel on a brand new section of Métro track but that’s what I did last month.
A new station, Front Populaire, was opened on 18th December 2012 at the northern end of Paris Métro Line 12 making it the 302nd station on the Paris Métro network.
For the time being, Front Populaire becomes the new northern terminus of Line 12 but a further extension will add two more stations, Aimé Césaire, close to the canal Saint-Denis, and Mairie d’Aubervilliers, both expected to open in 2017. After that, in a further example of RATP’s joined-up thinking, the plan is for a further extension to connect to RER B at La Courneuve and Tram Line 1.
I went to visit the Front Populaire station shortly after it opened and I was impressed. Work began in mid-2008 and it took four years to complete the tunneling and the construction work on the station.. The station is spacious and the upper reaches are well lit by natural light coming through the large glass roof. It has seven escalators and three elevators for those who want to avoid the stairs.
I was a little surprised to discover that the tunnels are air-conditioned to ensure a constant temperature of between 10°C and 14°C, cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. All the technical facilities are also temperature controlled.
This being a brand new station, the tracks are in pristine condition as yet untouched by oil and grease from the trains or detritus from the public. It can’t last! And the new track has an effect on the sounds of the trains.
Sounds of the one-stop journey from Front Populaire to Porte de la Chapelle:
The trains run very smoothly and much faster on this new section of track than they do on the rest of Line 12. It’s fascinating to listen to the sounds change as the train approaches Porte de la Chapelle where it slows down and joins the old track. The whoosh of the new line reverts to the clunkety-clunk so familiar to commuters on Line 12.
As well as this extension to the northern end of Line 12, thought is also being given to an extension to the southern end, which currently terminates at Marie d’Issy. An extension to Issy-les-Moulineaux is envisaged connecting with Tram Line T2. Work on this extension could start somewhere before 2020.
This proposed new extension will bring new track, new sounds and a more comfortable ride than today’s bone-shaking arrival at Marie d’Issy. Here are the sounds from the southernmost end of Line 12 as it is today from Convention station to Porte de Versailles, Corenton Celton and Marie d’Issy.
Convention to Marie d’Issy:
THE PARIS MÉTRO comprises 14 lines, some 300 stations and 201.8 kilometres of track. At any one time there are around 540 trains travelling on the system, and at busy times even more, carrying around 5 million passengers every day. Despite the density of the traffic, the Paris Métro is considered to be one of the safest public transport systems in the world.
Nevertheless, there have been two major disasters on the Paris Métro, one in 1943 when an allied bombing raid blew the roof off the station at Porte Saint-Cloud killing 403 people who where sheltering there and another in 1903 when a fire killed 84 people, most of them at Couronnes station – and it is the story of the Couronnes disaster that I want to tell.
Couronnes Métro station is much like any other station on Line 2 of the Paris Métro system. It’s a fairly busy station with a classic Hector Guimard entourage entrance leading down to the ticket hall and the entrance to the trains. At Couronnes, the trains run underground.
The construction of Line 2 began in 1900. It was built in stages and, by April 1903, the Line 2 that we know today, stretching from Porte Dauphine to Nation, was completed. At 12.4 km in length, just over 2 km of the line was built on an elevated section with four stations. One of these aerial stations, Barbès-Rochechouart, or Boulevard Barbès as it was known in 1903, was where the seeds of the disaster were sown.
The aerial Barbès-Rochechouart (formerly Boulevard Barbès) Métro station today
Sounds of Barbès-Rochechouart station today:
In 1903, Métro trains were largely made of wood and operated as four-car units. At busy times, two four-car units could be coupled together to make an eight-car unit. All the power for both the four-car and eight-car units was routed through the front car via shoes that connected the motor to the ‘live’ rail.
At just before 7.00 pm on the evening of Monday, 10th August, 1903, just a little over four months after the completion of Line 2, a train entered Boulevard Barbès station with heavy smoke billowing from one of the motors of the front car. The passengers were evacuated from the train onto the platform, the power to the motor was disconnected by raising the shoes, and the burning subsided.
With the urgent need to clear the line at Boulevard Barbès and probably against a chorus of frustrated passengers anxious to be on their way, the staff decided to move the train. They reconnected the power and allowed the train to descend into the tunnel ahead. What they hadn’t realised was that the fire was not simply a case of the train motor overheating it was in fact a short circuit which was bound to cause further trouble. And so it proved.
The burning returned although the train made it as far as the station Combat (now called Colonel Fabian) before the driver stopped for help. The power was once again disconnected and the burning subsided but when the power was reconnected it began again. It became clear that the only way to move the train any further was to use another train to push it.
Meanwhile, the passengers from the stricken train were still at the Boulevard Barbès station.
Passengers waiting at Barbès-Rochechouart (formerly Boulevard Barbès) today
Presently, a four-car train arrived and the passengers piled on. This train took them as far as the Rue d’Allemagne (now called Jaures) station where they again disembarked. As their now empty train moved on to Combat to join up with the stricken train another four-car train arrived at the Rue d’Allemagne and the frustrated passengers boarded that already overcrowded train.
Up ahead, the stricken train was being pushed by the empty four-car train. This combination was being driven by the motor in the four-car train at the rear but the short-circuited motor on the stricken train was still live and by now burning again.
The combination of trains arrived at Couronnes and the following train complete with passengers was close on its heels.
Couronnes station today – Most of the deaths occurred on the platform on the right
The motor on the leading train combination was by this time well on fire but instead of continuing into the tunnel ahead, the driver stopped the train halfway along the platform. The train with the passengers pulled up behind. The passengers were once again told to get off their train. Understandably perhaps, their frustration boiled over and some passengers refused to get off whilst others began an altercation with the staff – but by then it was too late. The stricken train moved off into the tunnel ahead and travelled to the next station, Ménilmontant, by which time the fire had got out of control. The fire destroyed the electrical circuit supplying the Couronnes station lighting and the station was plunged into darkness just as a cloud of dense black smoke appeared out of the tunnel ahead. Chaos ensued as people scrambled for the exits which many couldn’t find. Some survived but many did not. In total, eighty-four people died, seven at Ménilmontant and the rest at Couronnes.
Carte Postale Ancienne. Source CPArama.
The news of the disaster was greeted with shock and crowds gathered as the bodies of the victims were evacuated from the stricken station.
Evacuating the bodies – Carte Postale Ancienne. Source CPArama.
Sounds of Couronnes station today:
Within days of the disaster, measures were put in place to ensure that events like this could never happen again.
As I said at the beginning, the Paris Métro today is considered to be one of the safest public transport systems in the world. Long may it continue.
THE PARIS MÉTRO SYSTEM is reputedly the second busiest Métro system in Europe after Moscow and the Métro station Châtelet – Les Halles is said to be the largest Métro station in the world.
Métro Châtelet Entrance – Place Sainte-Opportune
Châtelet Métro station is named after the medieval Place du Châtelet, which in turn is named after the Grand Châtelet, a castle over the northern approach to the old Pont au Change over the Seine to the Île de la Cité, which was demolished by Napoléon in 1802. The Grand Châtelet lost its defensive purpose in 1190 when Philip Augustus built a rampart around the perimeter of the city; from then on it served as the headquarters of the prévôt de Paris, the official “charged with protection of royal rights, oversight of royal administration, and execution of royal justice” in late medieval Paris. Amongst other things, the Grand Châtelet was known for its subterranean dungeons and, for the ordinary citizen, it was a place to avoid at all costs.
Nothing much has changed! The Métro station has the feel of a subterranean dungeon, a cavernous place with little to commend it except for its utilitarian use as a means to get from one place to another. Few people come to this place except to pass through it to get somewhere else.
Métro Châtelet Entrance – Place du Châtelet
The station is home to five Métro lines. Lines 7 and 11 run under the Place du Châtelet and the Quai de Gesvre, site of the original medieval river port of Paris, and lines 1, 4 and 14 are towards the Rue Saint-Denis and the Rue de Rivoli.
I found this potted history of the development of the Métro lines at Châtelet via Google and from my knowledge of the Paris Métro, it seems to be a good and accurate summary:
‘The station was opened on 6 August 1900, three weeks after trains began running on the original section of line 1 between Porte de Vincennes and Porte Maillot on 19 July 1900. The line 4 platforms were opened on 21 April 1908 as part of the original section of the line from Porte de Clignancourt to Châtelet. It was the southern terminus of line 4 until the opening of the connecting section of the line under the Seine to Raspail on 9 January 1910.
The line 7 platforms were opened on 16 April 1926 as part of the line’s extension from Palais Royal to Pont Marie with the name Pont Notre-Dame-Pont au Change. It had no direct connection with Châtelet. On 15 April 1934 a connecting corridor was opened to the platforms of lines 1 and 4 and the line 7 station was renamed. The line 11 platforms were opened near the line 7 platforms on 28 April 1935 as part of the original section of the line from Châtelet to Porte des Lilas.
On 9 December 1977 the Châtelet – Les Halles RER station was opened with a connecting corridor with a moving walkway to Châtelet. The line 14 platforms were opened near the line 1 and 4 platforms on 15 October 1998 as part of the original section of the line from Madeleine to Bibliothèque François Mitterrand. On 7 and 8 March 2009 the line 1 platforms were restored during the automation of line 1, including the installation of platform screen doors.’
I’ve passed through the Châtelet Métro station many times but I’ve never visited it as a place itself. The other day, I put that right. I went and explored all five of the Métro lines that connect there although I left the three RER lines for another day.
I recorded the sounds of all five Métro lines, together with sounds of the passengers and the musicians who are a delightful feature of this station. This is what I came up with:
Châtelet Métro Station – A Sound Portrait:
The Moving Walkway
After spending an entire afternoon in the station I came away with some delicious sounds for my Paris sound archive, a snapshot of which you’ve heard here, but I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was in a subterranean dungeon.
For the Métro buffs who take an interest in these things, the trains in my sound piece appear in the following order:
Line 4, Line 11, Line 14, Line 7 and Line 1 … but then you knew that already!
THE ENTRANCE TO THE Métro at Porte Dauphine is over one hundred years old, it’s a national monument as well as a national treasure and it’s an iconic reminder of the contribution that Hector Guimard made to the Paris Métro.
Construction of the Paris Métro began in 1898 with the stretch between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes linking the west to the east of the city. This, with its subsequent extensions, is what today we know as Line 1. At the same time, two other short lines were built both from Etoile station, which we know today as Charles de Gaulle – Etoile. One of these lines went south to Trocadéro where passengers could alight for the Tour Eiffel and the other went southwest to Porte Dauphine and the then fashionable Bois de Boulogne. These lines were later extended with the former becoming Line 6 and the latter Line 2.
Charles de Gaulle – Etoile to Porte Dauphine:
The French architect, Hector Guimard, was just 30 when he was engaged by Adrien Bénard, Chairman of Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris, to design the entrances to the Paris Métro. Bénard wanted the entrances to be subtle and not to detract from the sophisticated Paris boulevards. Guimard’s devotion to the art nouveau style was a gamble but one which paid off handsomely.
Guimard’s Métro entrances were of two basic types, those with and those without glass roofs. All his entrances were built in cast iron and made heavy reference to nature and the symbolism of plants.
By far the most numerous of his entrances were the ‘entourage’ type, shown above, comprising moulded ironwork roughly waist high around three sides of the stairs with no roof. The specification for this type of entrance called for electric lighting to be included and Guimard solved this by placing two lamps on tall support poles resembling plant stems, in which the orange lamp is enclosed by a leaf resembling a brin de muguet, or sprig of lily of the valley. Guimard also included the characteristic ‘Métropolitain’ sign in his distinctive hand-drawn lettering. Interestingly, the placeholders containing the station name and map were not included in Guimard’s original design; they arrived in the 1920’s. Over 150 of these ‘entourage’ entrances were built of which over 80 survive today.
Guimard’s roofed Métro entrances were known as édicules, and they included a fan-shaped frosted glass awning and an enclosure of opaque panelling decorated in floral motifs.
The Métro entrance at Porte Dauphine is an original Édicule ‘B’ design which Guimard installed at three of the first four terminus stations, Porte Maillot, Porte de Vincennes and Porte Dauphine. The one at Porte Dauphine is the only original édicule to survive. It sits perfectly there displaying its organic forms surrounded by trees and with the enormous Bois de Boulogne close by. The panels have had some restoration and they look as good as they day they were installed.
Hector Guimard of course did not design every Métro station entrance in Paris. His art nouveau style was considered too avant-garde for some areas so, in 1904, the architect Cassien-Bernard was engaged to design a number of new station entrances in a rather austere neo-classical style. These can be found in architecturally sensitive areas including the Opéra, the Madeleine and on the Champs-Elysées.
It has always seemed a little strange to me that Porte Dauphine should be one of the terminus stations on Line 2. Surely the busy hub of Charles de Gaulle – Etoile would have been the obvious choice. However, Porte Dauphine Métro station may not be the busiest station on the Paris Métro network today but in its heyday it was one of the most fashionable and most popular. Had it not been, it would not have been graced with one of Hector Guimard’s finest creations, which today stands proud as a national monument and a national treasure.
Porte Dauphine to Charles de Gaulle – Etoile:
YESTERDAY, WEDNESDAY 18th JULY, was World Listening Day 2012. Organised by the World Listening Project in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Day is a celebration of listening as it relates to the world around us. People from across the world participate in a variety of ways and I was keen to make my contribution. I gave a lot of thought to what my contribution might be.
I decided that I wanted to share sounds that people would find interesting and enjoyable to listen to, sounds that reflected everyday life here in Paris, sounds that anyone could have easy access to but sounds that are perhaps so familiar they are often ignored. The Paris Métro seemed to have the answer.
A staggering 1.5 billion journeys are made on the Paris Métro each year. About 93 million of these are made on Line 5, the line that crosses the east of Paris from Place d’Italie to Bobigny. When I began to think about it two things occurred to me. First, Line 5 is perhaps the most sonically interesting line on the Paris Métro network and second, I suspect that very few people actually travel the full length of the line from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso or back again.
Line 5 is of particular interest to me because its sounds are changing. The current MF 67 trains have been in service for over forty years and they’re now gradually being replaced by the new MF 2000 rolling stock. Before too long, the distinctive sounds of the MF 67’s, the sounds everyone associates with the Paris Métro, will disappear. For some time now I have been collecting and preserving the sounds of the Paris Métro and particularly the sounds of Line 5, but I have never recorded the complete journey from one end of the line to the other. World Listening Day 2012 seemed like an ideal opportunity to do it.
I began my journey at Place d’Italie.
Place d’Italie – On the left an MF 2000 : On the right an MF 67
The journey from Place d’Italie to the other terminus at Bobigny – Pablo Picasso is 14.6 kilometres. It includes 22 stops and it takes about 35 minutes.
Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso:
The station names on Line 5, like the station names on all the Métro lines, provide a lexicon of French history. It’s easy to get carried away thinking about Napoleon and the Treaty of Campo Formio or the Battle of Austerlitz or Jacques Bonsergent, the first civilian Parisian to be executed by the Nazis during the Occupation all remembered in the station names on Line 5.
The MF 67 train I travelled on
But for me, it’s the sounds that are so fascinating. The ageing MF 67 rolling stock combined with the curves and gradients of Line 5 create a sonic experience unlike any other on the Paris Métro network. So, anyone familiar with Line 5 will be familiar with these sounds.
People don’t usually catch Métro trains just to listen to the sounds … but I do, which is why this recording takes on an extra dimension. I record sounds like this partly as an historical record of the sounds of our time but also for the purely sonic qualities that sounds like this have. Listened to in a train on Line 5 these sounds simply come with the territory, but listened to away from the Métro system, divorced from their context, they become something completely different.
On one level, these completely unprocessed sounds are a colourful sonic record of a journey from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso along the full length of Line 5. On another level, they become a sort of self-generated work of sound art, a Matériel Fer tone poem.
Listening as it relates to the world around us is what World Listening Day is all about. These sounds, the sounds of Line 5 of the Paris Métro, are my contribution to World Listening Day and I hope they will enrich others around the world as much as they enrich me.