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April 4, 2014

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Gare du Champs de Mars

by soundlandscapes

WHEN I TRAVEL IN Paris I mostly use either the Métro or the buses but rarely the RER. The RER, or Réseau Express Régional, of course does crisscross Paris but I only seem to use it when travelling further afield to the Parisian suburbs.

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The RER Network across Paris and the Île-de-France

The other day I was on an RER train returning to Paris from a sound recording assignment in the suburbs when I alighted at the RER station ‘Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel’. Although I pass this station frequently on my regular 82 bus journeys I had never actually been inside so I took this opportunity to have a look round and, of course, to capture the atmosphere in sound.

Inside the Gare du Champs de Mars:

There are two unassuming entrances to the station, one at the junction of the Quai Branly and the Avenue de Suffren …

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… and the other further along the Quai Branly at the Pont Bir-Hakeim.

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Entering the station from the entrance close to the Avenue de Suffren the unassuming feel continues. There is no huge concourse but rather a narrow corridor leading to the ticket barrier.

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There are only two platforms at the station conveniently named ‘A’ and ‘B’ and the signage is good too, which is just as well since thousands of tourists use this station to get to and from the most visited attraction in Paris, Le Tour Eiffel. Many tourists wanting to venture from the city centre to the Palace of Versailles also use this station.

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It’s only once you pass the ticket barrier and have figured out which platform you need (for the Palace of Versailles you need Platform ‘A’ by the way) that you begin to get a different feel for this station.

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RER Line ‘C’ – Direction Pontoise

The sweeping platforms are very long and from Platform ‘B’ you can look out across La Seine.

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RER Line ‘C’ – Direction Versailles

Today’s Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel station dates from 1988 when the Vallée de Montmorency – Invalides branch of RER Line ‘C’ opened. This stretch of line used a large part of the infrastructure of the former ligne de petite ceinture dating from 1867.

Today’s station may have only been here since 1988 but it is in fact the fifth railway station to have occupied this site.

The first Gare du Champs de Mars was built to connect the Petite-Ceinture to the Champ de Mars and the site of the 1867 Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair. This station was demolished shortly after the Exposition.

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Bird’s Eye view of the site of the 1867 Exposition Universelle in the Champs de Mars

Image via Wikipedia

For the 1878 Exposition Universelle, again held in Paris on the Champs de Mars, another Gare du Champs de Mars was built.

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Gare du Champs de Mars in 1878

Image via Wikipedia

This station was designed and built by the French architect, Juste Lisch who, amongst other things, also designed the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. This station survived longer than its predecessor and it was used for the 1889 Exposition Universelle as well. In 1897 though the station was demolished and moved to Bois-Colombes on the outskirts of Paris.

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The 1878 Gare du Champs de Mars in situ at Bois-Colombes

Image via Wikipedia

For the 1900 Exposition Universelle, this time featuring the newly built Tour Eiffel, another Gare du Champs de Mars was built and the line was moved closer to la Seine and extended to Invalides.

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Gare du Champs de Mars in 1900

Image via Wikipedia

As well as a station for passengers, a goods station was built close by between the Avenue de Suffren and the Boulevard de Grenelle. After the 1900 Exposition the passenger station was closed, the goods station became a coal depot and from 1937 it was transformed into engine sheds. The former goods station was finally closed in 1971.

Although the 1900 Gare du Champs de Mars no longer exists it is possible to imagine something of it by walking along the Promenade du quai Branly between the Pont d’Iéna (opposite the Tour Eiffel) and the Pont Bir-Hakeim and looking back towards the Tour Eiffel. Along this stretch of the Promenade du quai Branly some of the original wall of the 1900 station remains.

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Part of the original wall of the 1900 Gare du Champs de Mars

The Gare du Champs de Mars and its association with the Expositions Universelle held in the Champs de Mars close by is of interest to me partly because I find the history of these Expos fascinating (Paris also hosted the 1937 one as well) but also because Paris is bidding to hold the Exposition Universelle in 2025.

It just so happens that my local Mayor and Deputé (Member of Parliament) is leading the bid so I must ask him if we can expect yet another new Gare du Champs de Mars in 2025!

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 6 2014

    More great sounds from the subterranean world of Paris, I think your train recordings are always some of my favourites as they have such a great spatial tactility to them, moving from left to right, foreground to background. Really great.

    Reply
    • Apr 7 2014

      Thanks JD. Trains are a good example of sounds that we often hear but seldom listen to – at least we city dwellers often hear them although I suspect they are a little less common in your neck of the woods!

      One of the things I find fascinating and a real challenge with making recordings like this is to try to capture not only the sounds but also a sense of perspective. It’s a skill I’ve had to learn. Each location presents a different challenge and requires a corresponding amount of thought and effort to capture the appropriate perspective. Sometimes I succeed … and many times I don’t!

      Reply

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