10 Facts About the History of the Paris Metro

This article was written by Context Paris intern Victoria Fitoussi

Paris has an array of history of offer above ground, but you may be surprised to know how much you can learn underground in the Paris metro. A trip to Paris for any tourist is incomplete without at least one ride through the 115-year-old metro system. Not only is it the easiest and most historically interesting form of transportation in Paris, but according to Franz Kafka, “The Metro furnishes the best opportunity for the foreigner to imagine that he has understood, quickly and correctly, the essence of Paris.” We’re showing off the quirky side of the system and sharing 10 facts you’ll want to remember the next time you’re on Paris’ metro.

Slide 1
Every year 1.4 billion people ride the Paris metro. Daily, the metro covers over 600,000 miles with 600 conductors shuttling 2,553 cars to all 303 stations. To put that into perspective, that’s about the equivalent of going around the Earth ten times. Image via Wikicommons
Slide 2
Thanks to the incredible design of the Chief Engineer, Fulgence Bienvenüe, there are never more than 550 yards between one station and another; which means Paris has the most comprehensive underground rail system in the world. Photo via Wikicommons
Slide 3
Around 3,500 workers began constructing the metro in 1898, which was finished on July 19th, 1900, just in time for the World’s Fair and Summer Olympic Games at the Bois de Vincennes. Parisians immediately loved the new means of transport and it was quickly adapted as an inescapable feature of the Paris daily life. Photo via Wikicommons
Slide 4
Architect Hector Guimard’s design of the metro station kiosks fostered the Art Nouveau architecture, which is widely known as “le style metro”. There are two main variations of the metro kiosk designs: with and without glass roofs. The first has a glass canopy feature in the form of a dragonfly. The second’s masts lean over the steps of the metro like graceful plants; giving Parisians a little taste of nature in the hustle and bustle of the city. Photo by Steve Cadman via Wikicommons.
Slide 5
Initially the metro was called, “La Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Metropolitan de Paris”, which was a mouthful, so then it was shortened to “Le Metropolitan”, which was then abbreviated to what has now become the most common word used for all subway networks around the world, the “Metro”.
Slide 6
When WWII arrived in Paris, metro authorities were forced to abandon their projects. Many services became limited and some stations, such as Arsenal, Champ de Mars, Croix Rouge, closed down. Now know as “ghost stations”, they are used as sets for films like Amélie and architects are now thinking of ways to revamp them as nightclubs and swimming pools. Photo via Wikicommons
Slide 7
Metro stations were too shallow to be used as bomb shelters during WWII, so they became a meeting place for the French Resistance. The extensive tunnels allowed them to conduct swift assaults on the Germans throughout Paris. The photo shows crowds of French patriots line the Champs Elysees to view Free French tanks and half tracks of General Leclerc's 2nd Armored Division passes through the Arc du Triomphe, after Paris was liberated on August 26, 1944. Photo via Wikicommons
Slide 8
The newest addition to the Paris Metro family, line 14, opened in 1998 and was instantly deemed the future of railway technology. It is the only Paris metro line that has operated automatically without a conductor since its opening. Photo via Wikicommons.
Slide 9
Even the names and décor of the stations have significance. Stations are named for war heroes, important battles, main streets, and people who have had a significant impact on French history. Each metro station also has a theme. For instance, at the platform of Richelieu-Drouot there is a touching war memorial carved into black marble by the sculptor Carlo Sarrabezolles which is dedicated to the metro railway agents who died in WWI. The walls of Concorde are covered in the writing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man from the French Revolution of 1789. In 1994, the Belgian comic book artist Francois Schuite redesigned Arts et Métiers to be reminiscent of Jules Verne’s science fiction novel. Photo via Wikicommons
Slide 10
If you find yourself impressed by the quality of musicianship echoing through the halls, that is because starting in 1997, the Espace Metro Accords (EMA) began holding auditions to decide which musicians could showcase their music in the metro. Each year around 100 artists are picked and are given permission to perform for the active travelers. Photo by Monica Arellano-Ongpin via Flickr.