Beneath Paris: Phantom métro stations

26Mar11

I woke up several times during the night, dreaming about today’s adventure: Imagine getting to visit two “phantom” métro tunnels that have been closed to the public for decades!

I couldn’t believe my luck a couple of weeks ago when I contacted ADEMAS on a lark. They’re a historical preservation society that specializes in researching and documenting Paris’ subway system. And after months of having no tours available, they finally had a group sign up. And I was welcome to join!

When I arrived this morning, I was almost sent away: One of the organizers hadn’t heard about my addition, and I didn’t quite blend with the group of 60-something retired engineers. I was very relieved when we sorted things out and I was allowed to stay.

The tour started with a stop at the Julien Androuze shop in Les Halles. For almost 100 years, these folks have been killing Paris’ rats—and they’ve kept the evidence. “Rats are an intelligent animal,” began our tour leader.

Over the next four-and-a-half hours, he guided us through several métro stations and explained many, many interesting things—most of which I didn’t hear. His voice was no match for the noise from the trains themselves and the cavernous tunnel surroundings. What a pity.

Still … I enjoyed learning about the different kinds of tile that were used, and why they selected white. (Because the doctors thought that this would help reduce germs. And also because white reflects light. And because people needed reassurance that the subways were a clean, safe place. And because …)

Alas, that’s about all I caught.

At one point, our guide showed us a tunnel that led to a never-inaugurated métro station. Just as well, I supposed, since it would have belched passengers directly onto the adjoining track.

He also took us to two phantom stations.

The first had a huge elevator shaft and lots of graffiti. Clearly it’s not completely abandoned. Still, it appealed to the urban explorer in me …

The second station was in much better condition. Closed for safety reasons during World War II, it never reopened, and its 1940s-era advertisements have been preserved.

It was cool, but I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed. Maybe I would have been more impressed if I’d had more context.

Oh, well. I’m still in Paris.

Stay tuned … more to come.



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