YOU CAN SEE THEM clearly from the train but since the automatic platform doors have been installed it’s now more difficult to view them from the platform, which is a shame because the decorative ceramic panels on the walls add a touch of class to Liège métro station.
Created by two Liège artists, Marie-Claire Van Vuchelen and Daniel Hicter, and installed in 1982, the ceramic panels depict some of the landscapes and monuments of the Province of Liège giving a very Belgian feel to this Paris métro station.
What is now métro station Liège was opened originally as métro station Berlin on 26th February 1911 as part of the Nord-Sud Company’s Line B from Saint-Lazare to Porte de Saint-Ouen.
Paris métro stations are usually named after people, places or events so the station took its original name from the rue de Berlin, one of the streets radiating out from the nearby Place de Europe in the 8th arrondissement. When the First World War broke out in 1914 and anti-German sentiment was particularly strong, the name of the street and consequently the name of the station was changed from Berlin, the capital of France’s enemy, to Liège, a city in the friendly neighbouring country of Belgium.
The ceramic panels are not the only unusual feature of this station.
As part of today’s Métro Line 13, the métro station Liège is located at the junction of the 8th and 9th arrondissements, about three hundred metres north of the mainline railway station, Gare Saint-Lazare. At this point, Line 13 runs directly under the rather narrow rue d’Amsterdam where it bisects rue de Liège.
This part of Line 13 was built using the ‘cut-and-cover’ method of construction. ‘Cut-and-cover’ is a simple method of construction for shallow tunnels where a trench is excavated and roofed over with an overhead support system strong enough to carry the load of what is to be built above the tunnel. The trench for this section of Line 13 was cut down from rue d’Amsterdam and because the street above was narrow so was trench forming the tunnel below. This meant that there was not enough room in the station to accommodate the usual two lines and two platforms opposite each other as is common in most Paris métro stations. Consequently, Liège is only one of two Paris métro stations to have offset platforms.
This rather poor picture culled from Wikipedia shows the offset platforms before the automatic platform doors were installed and it was still possible to see them.
The platform heading south (towards Châtillon – Montrouge) is located north of the junction of rue de Liège and rue d’Amsterdam above while the northbound platform (towards Asnières and Saint-Denis) is to the south of the junction. In each direction of travel, the trains stop at the first platform encountered.
This offset platform arrangement gives rise to a sonic curiosity. You can see from the picture that while the platforms are offset, both the northbound and the southbound tracks pass each platform. This means that this is the only station on the Paris Métro network where it is possible to hear trains regularly passing the platform without stopping. For example, if one is waiting at the northbound platform, the southbound train will pass without stopping and vice versa.
Stopping and passing trains in métro station Liège:
Another interesting sonic feature inside this station is the effect of the relatively narrow tunnel and its curved wall. The wall seems to both amplify the sounds of the trains while attenuating the ambient sounds between trains.
Note: I took these two pictures of the ceramic panels with my iPhone pressed against the glass of the closed automatic platform doors fully aware that at any moment what might seem like my suspicious behaviour could result in unpleasant consequences!
At the outbreak of World War Two, métro station Liège, like several other Paris métro stations, was closed for economy reasons. After the conflict, most of the stations reopened but some of them, including Liège, didn’t and they became known as the stations fantômes, or ghost stations. Liège station eventually reopened in 1968 but only with a limited service and it wasn’t until as late as December 2006 that the station began to operate a full service.
One of the features of Liège métro station is the platform office to be found on each platform. I have visions of them once being occupied by an authoritarian early twentieth-century stationmaster or maybe an equally authoritarian ticket collector. In fact, they date from the twenty-first century renovation of the station.
Of all the features of this station though it is the decorative ceramic panels made up of 6,576 ceramic tiles that dominate. There are eighteen panels altogether, nine on each platform.
On one platform are those designed by Daniel Hicter, each of which has a blue tone:
– Coo, dans la vallée de l’Amblève
– Les premières neiges en Fagnes
– Le barrage de La Gileppe
– L’Eglise romane de Momalle
– Le village de Limbourg
– Le château de Jehay-Bodegnée
– Le circuit automobile de Spa-Francorchamps
– Le château de Chokier-sur-Meuse
– Le Palais des Princes-Evêques de Liège
And on the other platform are those by Marie-Claire Van Vuchelen, each with a brown-ochre tone:
– La vallée du Hoyoux à Modave
– La vallée de la Vesdre à Nessonvaux
– Le Château de Wégimont à Soumagne
– Le Perron de Liège
– L’Hôtel de Ville de Verviers
– Le pont, la collégiale et la citadelle de Huy
– La maison Curtius à Liège
– Le Château de Colonster dans la Vallée de l’Ourthe
– L’Hôtel de Ville de Visé
If you’re travelling on Line 13 of the Paris Métro, it’s well worth getting off at Liège to have a look at these ceramic panels – even if you do now have to peer through the glass panels of the automatic platform doors.
AS PART OF THE Greater Paris Project, the plan to create a sustainable and creative metropolis by absorbing the suburbs and redeveloping the city centre, RATP, the Paris mass transit authority, is gradually extending the Métro lines further out into the Parisian suburbs.
This development has prompted me to create a new strand in my Paris Soundscapes Archive, which I’ve called the ‘End of the Line’. The idea is that I will visit the end of each Métro line and collect sounds not only from within the last station on each line but also from the surrounding area outside each station.
Since most Paris Métro lines begin and end at the periphery of the city this will not only be a fascinating way to discover new places but also new sounds. In my experience, the sounds at the periphery of the city often differ markedly from those at the centre so my ‘End of the Line’ strand seems a good way to explore more of these peripheral sounds.
From time to time I will share some of these ‘End of the Line’ explorations on this blog beginning with: ‘End of the Line – Les Courtilles’
The Métro station Les Courtilles, or to give it it’s proper name, Asnières – Gennevilliers – Les Courtilles, is the terminus of the north-western branch of Métro Line 13, the longest line on the Paris Métro network. Situated under the Avenue de la Redoute on the border of the communes of Asnières-sur-Seine and Gennevilliers, the station was opened in 2008 upon completion of the extension of Line 13 from the previous terminus, Gabriel Péri.
In November 2012, Tramway T1 was extended to terminate at Les Courtilles. Between the Métro station and the Tramway, an impromptu African market appears each day together with its characteristic sounds.
As I said, the Métro station Les Courtilles is on the border of the communes of Asnières-sur-Seine and Gennevilliers, with Gennevilliers being to the north-east of the station. Looking out over Gennevilliers from the Métro station, the view is dominated by the tourist-free zone, Le Luth, a huge social housing complex.
Shortly after I arrived at Les Courtilles so did the rain so, although Le Luth is well within walking distance from the station, I took the tram and travelled one stop to the heart of the complex.
Designed by the architects Auzolle and Zavaroni and completed in 1978, Le Luth is typical of many major residential projects built between the 1950s and the 1970s.
An aerial view of Le Luth via Wikipedia
Le Luth was built both to replace existing sub-standard housing and to provide accommodation for an expanding population and when it was completed it was considered a success.
But with the deindustrialisation of the 1980s and 1990s, companies in the area like Chausson, Carbone Lorraine and General Motors began to shed workers and the area began to decline.
“General Motors France se prépare à supprimer 280 postes de travail d’ici à juillet en raison de l’arrêt de la fabrication d’un système de freinage dans son unité de Gennevilliers.
GM France emploie environ 2.000 personnes à Gennevilliers (sur 5.200 en France) réparties dans trois unités spécialisées dans les freins, les systèmes électriques et les pots catalytiques.
LES ECHOS | LE 05/03/1993
Since 2006, Gennevilliers and Le Luth have been undergoing redevelopment. Efforts have been made to attract new economic activity and public spaces are being re-imagined. Roads have been cut through the undulating housing blocks, old buildings are being renovated or in some cases replaced with smaller housing units, and the extensions to Métro Line 13 and Tram Line T1 are part of this process.
Sounds of Métro station Les Courtilles, the tramway and Le Luth:
The ‘End of the Line’ strand in my Paris Soundscapes Archive is designed to capture the atmosphere in and around the terminus stations on the Paris Métro.
I collected over three hours of sound in and around Les Courtilles Métro station and Le Luth housing complex all of which has been consigned to my archive. For this post though I have distilled those sounds down to a fifteen-minute sonic snapshot, which I hope you find still gives a sense of the atmosphere of these places on a wet Tuesday afternoon.
This sound piece begins with my arrival at Les Courtilles Métro station and the ride up the escalator out onto the street. Then come the African voices in the market outside the station and on the tram ride to Le Luth and finally some sounds I discovered around L’espace Aimé Césaire, the cultural and social centre at the heart of Le Luth.
And what about the name ‘Le Luth’, where does that come from?
One explanation might be that the name derives from the Celtic root, luto- or luteuo-, which means ‘marsh’ or ‘swamp’. After all, Julius Caesar named the predecessor of present-day Paris ‘Lutetia’.
A more simple explanation though might be that, when viewed from the air, the housing complex has a shape similar to the musical instrument, the lute: ‘Luth’ is the French word for ‘lute’.
For me, the most interesting thing about listening to and studying urban soundscapes is not simply listening to the sounds themselves, fascinating as they often are, but rather it is going to new places to find new sounds and then discovering and understanding the historical, social, cultural and political context that surrounds the sounds.
Exploring the ‘End of the Line’ at Asnières – Gennevilliers – Les Courtilles has taken me to a place that I would probably never have visited had I not been hunting for new sounds for my archive. And although I haven’t written about it in great depth here, I am richer for having explored the context in which those sounds occur.
THE ENTRANCE TO the Métro station Varenne in Boulevard des Invalides in the 7th arrondissement lies right at the heart of the seat of power. Behind the wall alongside the station entrance with the iron defences on the top are several French government ministries and just round the corner at N° 57 rue de Varenne is the Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of the Prime Minister of France.
Métro station Varenne takes its name from the nearby rue de Varenne and it’s on Métro Line 13 which connects the western part of Paris to the suburbs of Saint-Denis, Asnières, and Gennevilliers in the north and to Châtillon and Montrouge in the south.
Image: Paris Métro Line 13 – plan by Otourly – based on an RATP file
The sounds inside Métro station Varenne:
Trains run frequently through this station and their sounds, their rattling and sighing, interspersed with the very clear station announcements make for a lively sonic ambience. Of course, following the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, Paris is still on a state of high alert and this is reflected in the sounds of the station with the repetitive, multi-lingual, security announcements.
The frequency of the trains passing through the station to Châtillon in the south and to Saint-Denis, Asnières, and Gennevilliers in the north, means that you seldom have to wait very long for a train.
However, there is one person sitting in this station who appears to have been waiting for a train for a very long time.
In fact this is one of the twenty or so castings made from the original ‘Le Penseur’ or, ‘The Thinker’, by Auguste Rodin, considered to be one of the most important sculptors of the 19th century.
Along with a Rodin sculpture of the novelist and journalist Honoré de Balzac, which sits at the other end of the station platform, these pieces have been here since 1978. Originally they were accompanied by other Rodin pieces along with a display case of photographs and drawings but these have since been removed. Today, only the Thinker and Honoré de Balzac remain.
Honoré de Balzac by August Rodin
Rodin’s Thinker is perhaps his best known monumental work, first conceived around 1880–1881 as a depiction of poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of the epic poem, the Divine Comedy. The image evolved though until it no longer represented Dante, but all poets.
The work was designed to occupy the centre of the tympanum of The Gates of Hell, which were intended to be a portal of a new Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. The Thinker was designed as an independent figure almost from the time the Gates of Hell were composed and was exhibited in Paris in 1889 at the Exposition Monet-Rodin at the Galerie Georges Petit. A bronze cast dated 1896 at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva reproduces the original twenty-seven inch version. The first over-life-size enlargement was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1904. At this time a subscription was begun for the most famous cast of it, the one for the city of Paris, which was placed in front of the Pantheon.
If you want to see the original over-size version of Rodin’s Thinker you have to leave the Métro station Varenne and walk a few steps to Rue de Varenne and the Musée Rodin.
The Musée Rodin – Rue de Varenne
Dedicated to the works of Auguste Rodin, the Musée Rodin was opened in 1919. The museum occupies two sites, one at the Hôtel Biron and surrounding grounds in central Paris and the other just outside Paris at Rodin’s former home, the Villa des Brillants at Meudon (Hauts-de-Seine). The museum collection includes 6,600 sculptures, 8,000 drawings, 8,000 old photographs and 7,000 objets d’art.
Image via Wikipedia
Sitting waiting for a train at the Métro station Varenne (I actually waited much longer than was necessary because I was so captivated by the soundscape around me), I was struck by the contrast between Rodin’s introspective Thinker sitting silently and immoveable, and the trains, which seemed to be so alive, extrovert and constantly expressing themselves.
Some might consider sitting in a Métro station for longer than is necessary a waste of time but, as Rodin said, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely”.
The Thinker in The Gates of Hell at the Musée Rodin
Image via Wikipedia