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August 10, 2010


The Paris Metro

by soundlandscapes

Paris has a superb public transport system at the heart of which is the Paris metro.

The man considered to be the “Father of the Métropolitain” was the wonderfully named Fulgence Bienvenûe, a one-armed railway engineer who had great experience of constructing railway systems but no experience of designing urban transport systems. In March 1898, the Minister of Public works authorised the construction of the first six lines of the Métropolitain amounting to some forty miles of track. Fulgence Bienvenûe was appointed Director of Construction for the Métropolitain and he embarked upon his task with enthusiasm.

The construction of the Métropolitain was a huge task. Work began in early 1899 against the background of the other great project of the time, the Universal Exposition, which was to open in the spring of 1900.  Unlike the London Underground where deep tunnels were bored, Bienvenûe opted for the cut and cover method of construction. This meant digging deep trenches at the bottom of which the lines were laid and the stations built. Then the trenches were covered over and tunnels formed. This meant that Paris became a huge building site.

Using the cut and cover method of construction the work was able to proceed quickly and the first Line, Line 1 from Porte Maillot in the west to Vincennes in the east, was opened on 19th July, 1900, several weeks after the opening of the Universal Exposition. Line 1was extended much later first to Pont-de Neuilly and then to La Défense. It is the line that I use practically every day.

Bienvenûe continued to work on the metro until his retirement in 1934 at the age of eighty-two. His name lives on today. The metro station Montparnasse – Bienvenûe is named after him.

The work of the other man most closely connected to the Paris metro is iconic, instantly recognisable and is seen as the very image of Paris.

Hector Guimard was commissioned to design all the entrances for the Paris metro in 1902. His name was synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement and his sinuous floral designs in forged iron were produced in sections so that they could be adapted to the conditions of each station. His designs were elaborate with glass roofs and walls and some even included drainage systems. Hector Guimard designed all the entrances to the Paris metro stations until 1913.

Sadly, only two of Guimard’s original metro entrances are still in use. One is at Porte Dauphine, shown here in the photograph above, and the other is at Abbesses although this one was originally at the Hôtel de Ville. Fortunately, some of Guimard’s other metro entrances remain at least in part like this one in the Place des Ternes.

The Métropolitain remains a unique part of the French cultural heritage.

The sound of a metro train on Line 12 at Concorde

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 21 2011

    No jingle of the Paris Metro? It would be so nice if you recorded it, i can’t find it anywhere, browsing trough your entire blog i hoped to find it… sadly, it’s not here…

    • Aug 21 2011

      Thanks for your comment George. I have lots of recordings of the Paris Metro many of which have not yet found their way onto my blog. I am planning an extended blog piece about the Metro soon so when that appears I’m sure you will find what you’re looking for.


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