The aspect of Paris that I find most fascinating is what’s underneath it. In fact, most of the fiction I write heavily features the vast expanse of city that hides beneath the surface.
So whenever I have the time and opportunity I try to visit somewhere underground.
What many people don’t know is that under the cobbled streets there are hundreds of kilometres of old mine tunnels, thousands of kilometres of enormous sewers, basements, bunkers, businesses and more. However, much of it is out of bounds, protected by police, forbidden from public entry.
There are a few places that you can visit though. So in this thread of my blog, Dark Spaces, I’ll tell you about the ones you can see legally.
The first I’ve chosen is the Musée des Egouts de Paris (the Paris Sewer Museum).
Accessed via a small ticket desk and staircase by the Pont d’Alma, it looks pleasant enough. White and blue canopies will shelter you from the sun or rain as you buy your 4,40€ ticket. A bargain. But as you descend the narrow staircase into the riverbank, it becomes apparent that the picturesque kiosque and riverside entrance are as pretty as this museum is going to get.
It should take you between 60 and 90 minutes to get through the full visit and let me warn you, it’s ten times more interesting than you think it’s going to be. The artefacts and interpretation of this underground gallery are fantastic. There is huge detail provided about how the sewer system came to be and the impact that it has had on the city throughout history, right up to the present day. The place is chock-full of enthralling facts, photographs and models.
The Parisian sewer network stretches across 2,400 kilometres and is one of the most advanced in the world. I’m not an engineer, nor am I particularly interested in what happens next when I flush the loo, but I found plenty of generalist information that really changed the way I understood the complex logistics of a densely populated city.
You will need a strong stomach for this one. I was not expecting (and in retrospect it’s probably exactly what I should have expected) that the amazing galleries would be set on long walkways and bridges over streams of actual sewage. There are some areas where you may want to hold your nose.
Smell aside, this visit is a really great and cheap way to begin understanding the enormity of the city beneath the city. It’s creepy, smelly, dark and damp and it’s absolutely brilliant.
Le Musée des Egouts de Paris is located on the riverbank by 93 Quai d’Orsay. It’s closed on Thursdays and Fridays. The nearest stations are Metro Alma-Marceau (on the other side of the river) or RER C Pont de l’Alma. For more information, see the website.