This post is dedicated to Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez’s Paris Over Under Project she had to complete for her Honors study abroad program in the Summer of 2019.
At 22 kilometers long, ligne 7 of the Paris metro is one of the longest lines in the system. Additionally, it contains 38 stations along the entirety of its route, making it no wonder why it is one of the busiest networks in the metro. While it was inaugurated in 1910, its north-east to south-east set up demanded continuous additions as the city expanded, it was not until May of 1987 that the latest extension was opened at the north stop La Courneuve. As the line runs throughout the entirety of Paris, from its very center to the periphery, you get to see the full range of the city’s demographics and variety in geography as you go along the various stops. From the young and rich in the heart of the city and the suburbs, to the older and less fortunate in the rundown parts, all Parisians can find themselves visiting the different stations of ligne 7. Getting the opportunity to personally visits the various stops along its route I not only got to observe the current conditions of France’s modern culture, but also a chance to analyze how the influence from the country’s past are still visible today — beyond the name of the stations.
Porte de la Villette
Historical insight: This station derived its name from the former commune, Villette, that was a Gallo-Roman village and did not become a part of Paris until 1860. The original district was called Villette, and near the location of the station was its gate (Porte de la Villette), thus its name came to be. This stop is recognized by its proximity to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie whose current operations are based on an initiative started by former president Giscard d’Estaing. The Cité is open for public use, and although you have to pay a fee to get and visit the various exhibitions and interactive spaces, there are still plenty of other resources you can access for free, such as their public library and aquarium. Reminiscent of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum back in Miami, this is a space dedicated to promoting the importance of science and research and getting individuals to engage in the future of our technological world. However, unlike back home in Miami, this concept is not limited to certain locations. On our line, this is just one of the two science museums we explored. In addition, with the size and resources accommodated to these areas, it is evident the French government has invested far more in the sciences than we have back home.
Personal observations: Stepping out of the metro and walking up to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie there was only one idea that plagued my observations: just how similar this museum, and its surrounding areas, resembled the Centre George Pompidou. Despite the Cité des Sciences being a science museum, and the largest one in all of Europe at that, the aesthetic and layout of the building was almost identical to that of the Pompiduo’s. The one key difference we saw was that positioned at the front of the museum was a fenced-off area were sheep were free to herd — something I definitely was not expecting to find in such a metropolitan area. However, we later learned that the climate and rural terrain of Paris is actually ideal for the Nuage and Odyseée ewes and thus the Cité des Sciences, as part of their effort to conserve the city’s biodiversity and spread scientific awareness, maintains its parkland as a “secondary urban reservoir.” This was definitely one of the most interesting starts to our explorations of the stops, especially considering how much this small space clashed with the modern architecture of its surrounding buildings. This place is one where the future of Paris meets its present. Inside the actual museum, there is everything from a planetarium and aquarium, to a library and cinema. As I previously noted, this sharing of space is something I had noticed in other areas of the city and really shows just how dedicated the government is to funding public spaces and getting their citizens more invested in the state.
Historical insight: The Rue d’Aubervilliers station saw its name change following the Battle of Stalingrad in 1946 during WWII. This battle is seen as one of the most decisive events of the war, turning it in favor of the Allied forces, and leaving no room to wonder of its importance in France’s history. Originally, the name Stalingrad was just associated with the city in southern Russia that was the target of German invasion forces for 7 months, and now recognized as one of the greatest events of confrontation throughout the entire war. With this being one of the many names on the public transportation system associated with WWII, it is quite evident just how much France has prioritized its remembrance and honoring of this tragedy.
Personal observations: With its vendor-lined streets and open layout, this area reminded us of Wynwood back home. You could find locals and tourists alike mingling with each other, going to explore the booths of food and merchandise sellers, all while getting to observe the world of France’s contemporary art. Moreover, with its close proximity to the fake beaches placed along the Seine, there was sure something to do for everybody that passed by. This is one of the few instances that we have been able to interact with the modern art scene of France, showing us that this traditional appreciation of it by the Parisienne culture has not been abandoned. One of the most interesting things we ended up discovering was the art installation “La Foret Escargot.” Much to my surprise, this is one of the three instances throughout our time working on this project that we have seen a major public installation. This is a traveling piece in the shape of a giant snail that is made up of reused and recycled materials. The artists’ intention with this work is to educate individuals on the looming danger of climate change and how issues such as major pollution and global warming exasperate these conditions, leaving millions to wonder what will be of our future. Ironically enough, the current location of the snail is right in front of the infamous Paris-Plages, also known as the artificial beaches. This development shows the two-sided nature of Parisienne values, but also how from war to climate change, France has had taken direct initiatives when confronting some of the biggest threats to its nation’s security.
Historical insight: Located in the 10th arrondissement, near the edge of the city, is the Château-Landon station. This is one of the few stops along this line that has historical ties to some of France’s most important eras. More recent in history, is the story behind the station’s name. It is based on the property owned by a member of the Landon family that was developed during the reign of Louis XIV. However, it has ties to even further back in time. This station is close in proximity to a street that previously was utilized by the Romans as a road to travel from old Paris, Lutetia, to up north.
Personal observations: From our stop and exploration of the area, it quickly became apparent to us that this neighborhood is different from the ones we previously visited. With its residential buildings and peaceful streets, the nearby streets reminded me more of my home in the suburbs than the chaotic mess of Paris that I have grown accustomed to. Free from the commotion of constant traffic and pedestrians, this was a nice reminder that there is more to the city than the frenzied nature of its urban center. Being a residential area, there was not much to explore — no historic churches to study or museums to walk around — however, this does not mean it was any less interesting to observe. It was a reminder of how Paris and its many arrondissements have been forced to adapt their spaces to the ever-growing population and their changing needs.
Chaussée d’Antin La Fayette
Historical insight: This is one of the original stations of the line, it was first opened in November of 1910 and is located in the northern area of the route. Its original name, simply Chaussée d’Antin, was in reference to a nearby street of the same name that was self-declared by the first Duke of Antin. Moreover, the stop has deeper ties to France’s history because it used to be the site of a marsh that saw dramatic and rapid development as it was part of the route frequently taken by Louis XV on his way in and out of Paris. The second part of its name, however, came much later in time and alludes to the nearby Rue La Fayette, as well as the flagship store of Galeries Lafayette located along this street. This stop is particularly interesting to observe because it is one of the many sites that proves just how consumed by shopping the French are, just like the Champs Élysées.
Personal observations: Walking up to the storefront of the Galeries Lafayette my friends and I had no idea what was hidden behind its grand entrances. Even just trying to get inside was a mission on its own, like trying to get through a maze. Much to our amazement, the store spanned across various streets wherein each division specialized in a different department. However, walking inside was an entire experience in its own. Similar to the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square, this place was straight out of a dream. Walking in you are immediately overwhelmed with the presence of designer names and luxurious brands. Still, if fashion is not your interest there is still more to be in awe of. Whether tourist or local, one can find themselves amazed by the pure beauty of its architecture and featured artworks. Even for me, a well-seasoned shopper, it was impossible not to get overwhelmed. Originally, I did not think the people of Paris would be so invested in the malady of the consumer culture that plagues the United States. For one, most European societies, especially in Western countries, are pushing towards more minimalistic and eco-friendly means of living. Moreover, given France’s violent persecution of its aristocracy and elite, you would think they would not concern themselves with such frivolities as designer items. However, it is evident now more than ever, that no matter where you travel to in the world you will not be able to escape the grasp of capitalism.
Historical insight: One of the original stops for this metro route, the history of this station and its surrounding areas highlights some of the most important components of France’s culture. Named after the nearby Palais Garnier, this station offers easy access to this lavish opera house that has become one of Paris’ many globally recognized landmarks. The architect of the Opéra, Charles Garnier, oversaw the building of it after construction began in 1861and lasted up until 1875 when it was finally open to the public. Its original purpose was to host the shows of the Académie Royale de Musique of Paris, which went on to include both opera and ballet shows as their popularity arose within the elite of France. This development is definitely one Louis the XIV would have been proud to know about. As part of his cultural arts mission, he founded the music academy to enhance his subjects awareness and appreciation of the arts, hoping to have a global impact — of which we know he was successful in. The beauty and magnificence of this location, even Gaston Leroux saw it as a source of inspiration for the book The Phantom of the Opera, that then went on to gain international praise in the musical and film adaptations.
Personal observations: One of the first things noticeable from this stop is that its exterior sign is one of the few that does not copy the standard art nouveau style. In contrast, it has a marble entrance that matches with the opulent aesthetic of the Opera Garnier. Getting out of the metro we quickly made our way to the opera house in the hopes that we could enter and see its equally stunning interior in person. Unfortunately, there was a performance going on at the time of our visit so we were unable to do so, but that did not stop us from enjoying its decorative and bold exterior and looking deeper into the location’s history. One of the most memorable learning points from my trip is the difference in seeing images of these locations and being able to study them in person. Despite the fact that I have spent years being taught their importance, being able to physically experience them allowed me to better understand their cultural and historical importance. Personally, it also helped me bridge the gap between the past and the present. Paris, being a city so rich in history, is somewhere you can constantly do this. For example, even centuries after being built the Opera Garnier still stands and Louis XIV’s influence over society still remains.
Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre
Historical insight: Originally named Palais Royal, this station was renamed in 1989 and since then has seen further changes, especially in relation to its appearance. Located between the Louvre Palace and Louvre Museum, this stop is frequently overwhelmed by visitors (tourists and locals alike). Its exit is by one of the main entrances to the famed museum, leading you right out to the iconic pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei, that has become one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks. In fact, despite the recent addition of this pyramid, it is one of the many famous images synonymous with the museum itself. However, the station itself is famous for its very own artwork and not just its close proximity to it. In 2000 artist Jean-Michel Othoniel revealed Le kiosque des noctambules, his work that gave the entrance to the station a completely new look and set it apart from all the metro stops in Paris. Unlike the standard art nouveau designs of other entrances, the work by Othoniel included various aluminum spheres and colored pearls covering a bare iron structure. While this modern look contrasted with the traditional design of the Haussmanian buildings in the surrounding Place Colette, it added to the history and beauty of the area.
Personal observations: We originally came across this station as we were heading towards our class at the Musée du Louvre. As we passed by the piece done by Othoniel I was intrigued because of the juxtaposition between the work’s colors and shapes and the surrounding brick buildings. I was captivated by its appearance because it reminded me of something that belongs in Downtown Miami, and definitely not the center of Paris. Had it not been for our professor pointing it out to us I would have never guessed it was the entrance to a metro station. However, being so near to one of the internationally recognized museums I could not have envisioned their metro entrance design anywhere else in Paris. For decades the Louvre has been viewed as the epitome of art by millions across the world. They instantly recognize its name, can identify the most famous pieces displayed here, and spend weeks, months, years, dreaming about going. After visiting, I can definitely say it was one of the most memorable days of this program for me. And if I ever get the chance, I would love to take on the challenge of spending whatever indefinite numbers of days it takes to walk through the entirety of it. This stop reminds me, as well as the millions of others that go by it every year, of just how easily accessible the height of French culture is thanks to the sacrifices of the Revolutionaries.
Historical insight: Out of all the metro stations in Paris, Châtalet is definitely the one to visit. Even for those that are not big fans of public transportation and prefer to either walk or drive, Châtalet is like no other stop. Words are not merely enough to describe the restless energy of this place, with everyone you pass by blurring into one large, moving figure as they frantically rush to their various destinations. Its first platform opened in 1900 just three weeks after the original metro route of Paris, ligne 1, was inaugurated and trains started running. However, its platform on ligne 7 would not open until 26 years later. Its name finds origins in the Place du Châtalet that used to be located along the Seine river before Napoleon had it destroyed.
Personal observations: During our free times in Paris, Châtalet was where our journeys always began. In fact, a majority of our exploration of it was not during our times to work on the project, but rather when we were hanging out with our friends and looking for new things to discover. While we frequently visited this stop throughout our class times, getting to explore the surrounding area outside of academic purposes is a must for all those that come to visit Paris. It was beautiful to see how a place that once was delegated to the most marginalized groups in the city, where they faced the utmost oppression and disgraceful living conditions, has transformed into such a popular hub of activity.
Pont Marie — Cité Internationale des Arts
Historical insight: This station was opened during one of the lines earlier expansions in 1926. Part of the southern route, it is located near the right bank of the Seine and derives its name from the nearby bridge. It is also recognized by its second name, which refers to the stop’s proximity to one of the Cité Internationale des Arts sites. Coming into fruition after World War II, this project offers public facilities to international artists of all crafts. This is the second location we visited throughout the completion of our project in which the arts have had a significant historical and cultural impact on the development of the area, once again proving where France’s sociocultural values lay.
Personal observations: Walking along the river on a sunny afternoon this place proved to be the perfect place to be. As we made our trek to the Colonne de Juillet located at the center of the Place de Bastille we found ourselves distracted by all the individuals hanging out on the walkways bordering the river. This is one of the few stops along our line that had a more relaxed and social atmosphere. As opposed to the Île de la Cité, the areas along the Seine is more open and spacious, and allows individuals, especially its locals, build a sense of community urban city’s usually lack.
Historical insight: One of the later additions to ligne 7, the Place Monge station was inaugurated in February of 1930. Its name references French mathematician Gaspar Monge that was renowned for his work with descriptive geometry and role in re-establishing order following the French Revolution. Before it temporarily operated as a station for ligne 10; however, in April of 1931 it was officially integrated into ligne 7 when its connection to Pont de Sully was completed.
Personal observations: The neighboring area of this stop was one of the places that best displayed the diversity of French culture and values. Acting as a meeting point between religion, love, and science, it is impossible for one to get bored exploring the surrounding locales. Our first surprise occurred when we came across the Grand Mosque of Paris. While we did not go into the place of worship, we walked towards the back and headed towards the cafe they run. Much to my amazement, a majority of the people we saw there appeared to be white and affluent French citizens — the complete opposite of the demographic we saw head instead to attend religious services. Then, less than a five minute walk away is the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle that contains various buildings for different subject matters. Even more fascinating are the large open jardins located right next to the museums. In such a small area, you get to see some of the most defining values of French culture interact with one another, and it truly is a fascinating thing to witness.
Historical insight: Located along the edge of the Latin Quarter, station Censier-Daubenton is home to one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Paris. One of the most notable features in the area is the Rue Mouffetard that goes uphill and leads to a pantheon. This street is actually one of the most important historical landmarks of the city as it used to link Lutetia (old Paris) right to Lyon, another city of importance to the Roman invaders. While the street has undergone many transformations since these medieval times, it still is one that holds a lot of energy and spirit, and truly I was not surprised to discover it was one of the various sources of inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
Personal observations: Walking along the streets near the station there were two things that immediately caught our eyes: a small garden located in a roundabout in the middle of a pedestrian street and a church with a photo exhibition displayed along its fence. Moreover, for an area so near the Latin Quarter its peaceful and relaxed atmosphere was not what we were expecting (however, this may be due to the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon and the hectic atmosphere of the city has considerably toned down to accommodate for its residents’ weekend plans). Entering the church that originally caught our attention we discovered its name, Eglise Saint-Médard, and that it is dedicated to one of France’s patron saints. St. Medard was originally associated with the weather, but he was also later invoked to protect winemakers, brewers, and farmers — can it get any more French than that? Moreover, the church was originally built in the 15th century to honor relics of St. Medard, but since then has gone through various stages of renovation that has incorporated different styles of art. From Gothic, to Renaissance, and even classical, this church, like much of the rest of Paris, has seen many changes and had to adapt to these new conditions. Stepping out of the holy site we traversed back to take a deeper look at the photographs located along the church’s fence. After further research, we discovered that the exhibition put on by Claire Garate and Patrice Leconte was actually relevant to our project: it’s subject matter focused on them portraying what the “real” Paris was to them. From photographs of graffiti to children observing national spectacles, they, like us, embarked on the journey to establish a different, more authentic relationship with Paris and its people. Still, even after exploring this we were amazed by the infamous Rue Mouffetard. Walking uphill, it was evident that the street’s tradition of craftsmanship and butcher stores was still going strong, even after it was considered to be an uncleanly part of the district because of its constant rodent infestations. But Paris, like many other urban cities, has fallen trap to the cyclical nature of the least desired areas becoming the most desired as people look for new things to obsess over.
The opportunity to explore Paris through such an authentic manner is something I have never gotten to experience in any other city before. Despite the fact that I was raised and have lived a majority of my life in one of America’s most known urban areas, Miami, I have little experience with public transportation. However, in Miami this is the norm — you either have a car or go nowhere. As a result, there is a sense of detachment between me and my home. Especially since I live in the suburbs and the real heart of the city, where all the cultures and societies of Miami meet, is approximately an hour from me. I always felt like there was something missing that did not make me a “true Miamian,” something that I found in Paris throughout the completion of this project. First off, the line is far removed from the ones we commonly used when traveling with our classmates and professor; therefore, when we first started our project it was like we had to get accustomed to the metro all over again. In order for us to access the stops at ligne 7 we had to switch over from various lines and sit through long commutes (sometimes up to an hour!). However, this entire process allowed us to have a more accurate understanding of local citizen’s everyday lives. With just one swipe of our Navigo cards, we got to see the reality of the Parisienne streets, looking behind the idealized views of the city and seeking the authentic beauty of the city. Whether you take the metro just to go one stop over or take the entire line down, there is this sense of community that you feel with your fellow travelers that I have never experienced in Miami. Much to my surprise, having such easy access to the entire city is one of the things I will miss the most about Paris. When I first came I was skeptical of the public transportation, especially since the stations along our line are visibly some of the most rundown we visited; however, the beauty of Paris is that everyone ignores that. The metro, and in fact the entire public transportation system, is a symbol of unlimited freedom and equality, and something the Revolutionaries of the 19th century would have proudly celebrated the inauguration of.