AFTER COMPLETING A RECORDING assignment in the 7th arrondissement I found myself in rue du Bac heading for the Métro and home.
Stretching for some 1150 metres from the junction of the Quai Voltaire and the Quai Anatole-France alongside the Seine, rue du Bac crosses the busy boulevard Saint-Germain and ends at rue de Sèvres.
I was at the rue de Sèvres end of the street and so I set off to walk to the Métro station Rue du Bac at the junction of the rue du Bac and the boulevard Raspail, a little over half way along the street, recording the sounds around me as I went.
The green arrow shows my soundwalk and the red arrow shows the continuation of rue du Bac to la Seine
Rue du Bac looking north-east towards la Seine
Rue du Bac takes its name from a ferry (a bac in French) established around 1550 on what is now the quai Voltaire to transport stone blocks for the construction of the Palais des Tuileries. The ferry crossed the Seine at the site of today’s Pont Royal, a bridge constructed under the reign of Louis XIV to replace the Pont Rouge built in 1632.
The street was created between 1600 and 1610 and originally named grand chemin du Bac, then ruelle du Bac, grande rue du Bac and finally simply, rue du Bac.
I began my walk along rue du Bac at one of Paris’ largest department stores, Le Bon Marché.
Le Bon Marché department store
Now owned by the luxury goods group, LVMH, Le Bon Marché was founded in 1838 by the entrepreneur, Aristide Boucicault. By 1869, it had developed into one of the first department stores in the world heralding a retail revolution that lives with us to the present day.
Rue du Bac – A Soundwalk:
A little further on from Le Bon Marché I came upon the Chapel of the Société des Missions étrangères de Paris, a Roman Catholic missionary organisation. It is not a religious institute, but an organisation of secular priests and lay people dedicated to missionary work overseas.
Chapel of the Société des Missions Étrangers
And then, across the street, the Square des Missions Étrangers.
Rue du Bac is in a rather chic part of Paris and that is reflected in the boutiques lining this part of the street.
This shop, Pierre Farman at N°122 for example, sells vintage aircraft parts – heaven for an aircraft enthusiast like me!
Founded in 1903 by the Austrian confectioner Antoine Rumpelmayer and named after his stepdaughter, Angelina’s has a world-wide reputation for its elegant Salons de Thé and its classiques de la pâtisserie française including its signature Le Mont Blanc comprising meringue, Chantilly légère and vermicelles de crème de marrons.
This pâtisserie in rue du Bac is one of several Angelina’s in Paris and around the world.
A little further on is the Sotheby’s estate agency. I always think that estate agents who display elegant pictures of properties for sale but no prices are best avoided!
And then I came upon …
And finally …
The Métro Station Rue du Bac.
In the earlier part of the day I’d been concentrating on my sound recording assignment so I hadn’t set out to record a soundwalk in this part of rue du Bac but, as it turned out, I’m rather pleased I did. And I think the sounds of a dog barking, a boutique security guard chasing a shoplifter and a church clock striking the hour, all of which I came upon completely by chance, added to the local colour.
STRETCHING ALONG THE Boulevard de la Chapelle from Barbès Rochechouart Métro station to rue de Chartres, the Marché Barbès is not for the faint hearted. Even getting to the market can be a challenge since some of the market often spills over into the Métro station itself.
Inside Barbès Rochechouart Métro station on market day
From 08.00 to 13.00 on Wednesdays and from 07.00 to 15.00 on Saturdays, the Marché Barbès appears under the overhead section of Métro Line 2 and if you’re looking for a leisurely market with lots of personal space, then the Marché Barbès is not for you.
An assortment of stalls selling clothes, shoes, jewellery and assorted trinkets are clustered at either end of the market but most of the stalls in between are awash with fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
From end to end, a multi-ethnic sea of people moving at a snail’s pace, or sometimes not moving at all, fills the market. Getting close to a stall to actually buy something requires grit and determination, not to mention judicious use of the elbows. But the effort can be worth it. Not only is this perhaps the busiest market in Paris it’s also one of the cheapest where most of the fruit and vegetables seem to sell for €1/kilo. A running commentary of what’s on sale and for how much resonates around the market as the stallholders cry out vying to outdo each other to catch the attention of customers from the passing tide of people.
All this of course, together with the Métro trains running overhead, makes for a fascinating sound tapestry and so I set off to capture it. Having negotiated my way through the crowd inside the Métro station, I plunged into the throng of people across the street at the head of the market and set sail through what felt like a tsunami of people.
Progress was slow and not without incident, but I made it to the other end more or less unscathed although the relative calm of the rue de Chartres did come as somewhat of a relief.
Sounds of the Marché Barbès:
If you can cope with the crowds then the Marché Barbès is well worth a visit and there are certainly some bargains to be had – although I’m still not sure about the watches on sale for €2 each!
Rue de Chartres
IT’S PERHAPS BEST SEEN from outside the McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of the Boulevard de la Villette and the Avenue Secrétan in the 19th arrondissement. From here you can see the elegant, sweeping curve of the Paris Métro as it approaches the Métro station Jaurès, one of the four stations aériennes on Métro Line 2.
The elevated viaduct approaching Jaurès station
Although Métro Line 2 arrives at Jaurès station well above ground, the station also hosts two other lines, Line 5 and Line 7bis both of which are below ground.
The original station, called Rue d’Allemagne after a street close by, opened on 23rd February 1903 as part of the newly completed Métro Line 2 running between Porte Dauphine and Nation.
On 31 July 1914 the socialist and pacifist politician Jean Jaurès was assassinated in a Parisian café, Le Croissant, in rue Montmartre, by Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist. Just three days later, war with Germany was declared and suddenly German names became unpopular. The street name rue d’Allemagne was expunged and replaced by the avenue Jean-Jaurès. With the change of the street name came the change of the name of the station, rue d’Allemagne became simply Jaurès.
Paris Métro Station Jaurès – A Sound Portrait:
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Nation
Métro station Jaurès is one of the four stations aériennes on the 2 km elevated section of Métro Line 2 and so the Line 2 platform is well above ground.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Porte Dauphine
As well as the magnificent glass roof the platform also boasts a rather unusual stained glass window.
Designed by the artist Jacques-Antoine Ducatez, this window was installed in 1989 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It depicts the people carrying flags marching towards the Bastille prison, the taking of which launched the Revolution.
Line 2 was the first Métro line to open at Jaures station but a further line, or at least part of a line, was added soon after. In January 1911, a branch line of Métro Line 7 to Pré Saint-Gervais was incorporated. This branch line remained until 1967 when it was formerly separated from Line 7 to become Line 7bis, or Line 7a.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Louis Blanc
Line 7bis is the deepest of the lines that pass through Jaurès station and, at the moment, it looks by far the most desolate. All the tiles together with most of the fixtures and fittings have been removed in preparation for renovation work which is due to be completed by the end of June this year.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Pré Saint-Gervais
Sandwiched between Line 7bis and the aerial Line 2 is Line 5, which crosses the east of Paris from Bobigny to Place d’Italie.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Place d’Italie
Line 5 arrived at Jaurès station in 1942 as part of the extension of that line from the Gare du Nord to Eglise de Pantin.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Bobigny
In my sound portrait you can hear the sounds from all three of the Métro lines that pass through Jaurès station, Line 2, Line 5 and Line 7bis.
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.