At the weekend I decided to (finally!) go and take a peek at one of Paris’ newest green spaces, La Petite Ceinture du 15e. It is fantastic.
Similar to the Highline in New York, it’s a wonderful redesign of a space that lost its original purpose many years ago. La Petite Ceinture was one of the earliest public transport systems in Europe and was constructed in 1852 to circle the city and connect the suburbs to Paris’ mainline stations.
It was built in sections that ran both over and underground but, as the metro, RER and tramways expanded throughout the 20th century, the line became less and less popular, with more direct routes now available to the city’s train travellers.
It was mostly abandoned by the time the Second World War broke out and was left to rot and ruin. Much like the abandoned mine tunnels deep beneath the city, the tunnels and tracks of La Petite Ceinture were officially off-limits. Unofficially they became an urban playground for adventurers, photographers and street artists.
In 2013 the city’s residents began reclaiming this space and a small section of the 32km track was reopened as a public walkway. It starts at a new and narrow staircase on Rue Olivier de Serres (there is a lift for those with access needs but it was out of service when I visited). The track curves along viaducts and bridges through the south-west corner of Paris’ 15th arrondissement and ends at Place Balard, right next to Balard metro station.
Along the route, abandoned stations and platforms have been decorated with fascinating street art and graffiti, some of which looks very old indeed. The streets below you are marked with large orange letters on the path so you know where to find yourself on a map and there are regular signposts explaining the flora and fauna of the park.
It’s really great to see that the train tracks have been left in place. They run parallel to a pedestrian path that is popular with the joggers and flaneurs of the local area.
I would definitely recommend this as a great way to spend an hour. It’s a short walk but it allows you to imagine an older, more industrial Paris – a Paris where you might have seen a steam train carrying passengers past your bedroom window.
Photographer Thomas Jorion has spent years documenting La Petite Ceinture so if visiting the small public section whets your appetite, you must check out his website to see what the rest of the abandoned line looks like (his photos are much more impressive than my little instagrams!).
You can start the walk at a few points along the line but to find the Rue Olivier de Serres entrance I used, check the map below.
La Petite Ceinture du 15e is open seven days and you’ll find all the times on the city website here.
If you want to know more about the redevelopment of La Petite Ceinture, check out the website here, run by the association working towards restoration and preservation of the line.