In the late 19th century, a group of Parisian town planners donned their bowler hats and dressed in their finest waistcoats, and had a meeting. They stroked their moustaches, discussed transport ideas, took inspiration from the local moles, and decided to tunnel. The result was the birth of the first Paris metro line in 1900. Now it has grown to a world-beneath-a-city in the form of 301 stations taking you to within walking distance of anywhere in Paris. The Paris metro is a trusty old workhorse, and although some stations have a faint smell of urine or vomit, or a community of homeless beggars, on the whole, the metro is quite simply a masterpiece. The speed, usability, style and convenience blew me away.
A lot of metro platforms follow the same format; a short concave tunnel tiled with slick white tiles, brightly coloured seats and lots of advertising. But over the years there are some that have been redesigned or decorated into aesthetic wonders to make an ordinary commute extraordinary. But with a mind focused on travel, schedules, connections and being late to work, it could be easy to overlook the designs. It’s one of those things that people see but may not nessecarily see. Here are some of my favourites.
Cadet (line 7)
In this small station you are wrapped in the first incarnation of the American flag, a tribute to their allies and friends across the ocean. This is a stunning metro station to behold, as ribbons of red white and blue race from ceiling to floor.
Varenne (line 13)
As an homage to the nearby Musee de Rodin, Varenne metro station adds a touch of class with a pair of huge sculptures, one resembling Rodin’s famous ‘Thinker’ sculpture.
Liege (line 13)
Across from the platform in Liege are a series of murals arranged with painted tiles honouring the Belgian town of Liege, and the battering that it heroically withstood during WW1. The station was previously known as Berlin but changed with the onset of the great war.
Bastille (line 1, 5 and 8)
Bastille has an above ground platform full of colour and life. Figures spring out of the walls in lively 3D murels, an homage to day to day life of France of yesterday and it’s people. Some famous Parisian figures make an appearance, as do jugglers, musicians, soldiers, miners, farmers, nobles and many more.
Arts et metiers (line 3 and 11)
Arts et Metiers is an exciting metro station to board a train, and in honour of the museum of the same name above ground, the interior has become a Jules Verne Victorian era submarine. The walls are burnt copper fastened with rivets. The ceiling is alive with cogs and wheels. Garbage bins and seats in matching copper and portholes in the walls complete the fantastic illusion of this excellent station.
Réaumur – Sébastopol (line 3 and 4)
Also paying homage to the Arts et Metiers museum, Reaumur Sebastopol is never short of a crowd, with life-sized commuters painted onto the walls.
Pont Neuf (line 7)
While you’re underground waiting for your train in Pont Neuf, above ground the museum of money is raging. But don’t despair, part of the collection can still be enjoyed as giant coins crawl up the walls and onto the ceiling. If you stand alone on the platform and look up at the ceiling, the effect is really cool, and feels like something from Alice in Wonderland!
Tuileries (line 1)
Bored at Tuileries? Impossible. Stretching along the walls are a brief history of the last 100 years complete with pictures and descriptions. There’s always something to learn at Tuileries.
Concorde (line 1, 8 and 12)
The giant find-a-word. Every white tile has a different letter, spelling in an unbroken stream phrases from the French constitution. The end result is pretty cool.
Hôtel de ville (line 1 and 11)
As the mayor of Paris conducts his business at the Hôtel de Ville above our heads, in the metro station below, among bits and pieces of decoration is a massive costs of arms of the city of Paris. It also shows some history of the metro system on various plaques.
Parmentier (line 3)
The theme is potatoes, oddly. Parmentier is named for Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, the frenchman who pushed to introduce the potato as a staple food throughout France and Europe.
Jaurès (lines 2, 5 and 7)
Above ground Jaurès with its breezy open air, art deco design and stained glass windows give the station an airy lightness.
Chaussee d’antin la Fayette (line 7 and 9)
A busy station near mega shopping area La Fayette, and nothing special to behold if you’re focused on the designer shopping bags in your hands…but look up a the ceiling. A la Sistine Chapel, the great murals above are a blue sky of French portraiture.
Cité (line 4)
The art nouveau street lamps with their low-hanging globes of soft light lend to Cité metro station an elegance, and a gentlemanly sophistication reminiscent of a time not too long ago. The light bounces off the polished tiled ceiling and slick floor to great effect.
Cluny – La Sorbonne (line 10)
There are two cool things about Cluny – la Sorbonne. Firstly, there are no advertisements. This gives the station a pure, clean look, and also accentuates the second cool thing, the sparkling tiled mosaics above, flying across the ceiling like frozen birds of pastel blues, yellows and purples. The names of notable artisits, writers, philosophers and other Frenchmen of importance in the Latin quarter are signed on the ceiling as well.
Assemblée Nationale (line 12)
Another station with no advertising, the blue walls and big white spots of Assemblée Nationale allow this huge cartoon cowhide to be freed for admiration without obstruction.