Paris Metro Line 4
Over the course of one month, I have experienced more of Paris than of Miami, a city in which I have lived for almost a year. I have visited more museums and monuments here than I have in my lifetime in the United States. The accessible public transportation in Paris has allowed me to conveniently access many of Paris’s most historic buildings. Metro Line 4 runs through central Paris from north to south. The northernmost stop is Porte de Clignancourt, and the southernmost stop is Mairie de Montrouge. I will explore several stops along Metro Line 4, starting with its central stop, Chatelet, and expanding outwards both ways.
Stop 1: Chatelet- Les Halles
Photos by Haven Blackmon
Chatelet- Les Halles is the largest underground station in the world, with an average of 750,000 people passing through this station each day. It is the central stop of Paris, and given its size, a newcomer may be easily overwhelmed. With so many possible directions to roam, walking up to find an expansive, all-encompassing shopping mall, Le Forum des Halles, is captivating. Le Forum des Halles is an underground mall that was built in 1979 to replace the overpopulated market, Halles Centrales, that stood before it. The construction of the mall was controversial, as it destroyed the long history of the market there, and its modern glass architecture is juxtaposed to the historic buildings surrounding it. The market at Les Halles had existed and grown over centuries: in fact, the market originated in the 12th century, and its last expansion in the 1800s required that the remains in the Cimetiere des Innocents be excavated and moved to the Catacombs of Paris. Understandably, the destruction of centuries of history for the development of a modern mall was met with plenty of backlash.
In addition, another grand modern construction lies in Chatelet- Centre Pompidou. The creation of the Centre Pompidou was announced by President Georges Pompidou in 1969 to become a cultural center for art and reading. Interestingly, an open contest was held for architects to design this cultural center, and after choosing three architects, none French, the center opened to the public in February 1977. The center showcases modern art, from 1900 to today, and a large portion of the building is a multi-level public library.
The community around Chatelet is incredibly diverse, home to both the Jewish quarter and the gay district. The Jewish population of Paris had established a community in this area in the thirteenth century. However, Jewish people in France still faced hardships under the monarchy, which did not resolve until the French Revolution. The establishment of the gay district is much more recent. While small gay communities have gathered in numerous areas in Paris, the gay district in Chatelet is said to have began emerging around the mid-1800s.
Stop 2: Cite
Photos by Haven Blackmon
While Chatelet-Les Halles is the central metro stop in Paris, Ile de la Cite is the true center of Paris. This island is the most historic part of Paris, as it was home to Gauls before Roman conquest. After the Roman conquest, Cite, then known as Lutetia, became the Roman administrative center of the area. Two notable locations in Cite are, of course, Notre Dame, and Place Dauphin. As old as Ile de la Cite is, Paris is always evolving and these locations show the progression of the center of Paris through history.
The construction of Notre Dame officially began in 1163, yet took two centuries to complete. Because of this, multiple architects were tasked in its creation, and notable features of the cathedral are attributed to each one of them: rib vaults were brought about by an unknown architect, rose windows were implemented by Pierre de Montreuil, and flying buttresses were put in place by Jean Ravy. While much restoration has been done to preserve this historic masterpiece, it is still much older than this next location, Place Dauphin.
Place Dauphin, although not a building, was built in 1607, and remains much as it was in the 17th century. The triangular shaped park and surrounding buildings were ordered to be built by Henry IV and named after his son. The layout of this park and surrounding buildings are said to be the same as when they were created in the 1600s. This creates an interesting dynamic where the building several centuries older is in some ways newer due to restoration, whereas a relatively new (by Ile de la Cite standards) place is still frozen in time for the opposite reason.
Stop 3: Denfert-Rochereau
Photos by Haven Blackmon
Denfert-Rochereau is home to the Catacombs of Paris, a portion of the underground tunnels of Paris built up with human remains. The removal of remains from cemeteries began in 1785 to relocate them to these underground tunnels because cemeteries in Paris were overcrowded and the placement of remains was becoming unsanitary. The first cemetery to be emptied was the Saints-Innocents cemetery, followed by others for decades. The Catacombs then first opened to the public in 1809; however, more remains would be added in 1859 and 1860, which ended the addition of remains. Now, the skeletons of over six million Parisians are set in the Catacombs. Charles Axel Guillaumot was in charge of organizing the transfer and resetting of bones, which consisted of joining like body parts together- that is, stacking femurs on femurs, vertebrae on vertebrae, and placing skulls side by side so that all the remains could fit in designated areas. At first, this segmentation and arrangement of bodies seemed disrespectful and perverse, but later I realized that this was a necessary action to take to solve cemetery overcrowding. Additionally, many, if not most, of these remains were of those whom had already been dead for centuries. Eventually, the design and organization of bones became fascinating to me as I realized that the structure was meant to maximize space.
Stop 4: Gare du Nord
In northern Paris, Gare du Nord is the busiest train station in Europe. Around 190,000,000 people arrive at the station every year, which makes it the third largest in the world. Gare du Nord train station was first opened in 1846, but had to be rebuilt less than two decades later in 1860 because of its overflowing capacity. During its second construction, it was reopened in 1864 with the design of architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff. The station expanded once again in 1884 to accommodate more traffic. This was not the last time expansion occurred for the train station as Eurostar trains were incorporated in 1994. The station now has arriving trains from the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Once outside of the station, a particularly jarring sight can be seen- Maison Fond. Maison Fond is a sculpture created by Leandro Elrich which depicts a melting house at an angle. This sculpture was the first thing that caught my attention outside of the station. My most memorable experience from Gare du Nord station was of speaking with a young French woman about her own experiences studying abroad, and the stark differences between the price of education in France compared to the U.S. She emphasized that her bachelor’s degree is cost-free, and of the study abroad programs she was considering in several different countries, a program offered in North Carolina was the most expensive. As many times as I could hear about publicly funded college education, I did not fully register how the U.S. is an outlier until listening to her experience.
Stop 5: Saint Germain des-Pres
Photo by Haven Blackmon
The most well-known historic site near Saint Germain des-Prés station is the Louvre, which was originally a fortress in 12th century France. Parts of the original fortress can still be seen today in the museum. Centuries later, it was adapted to be a royal palace, and was expanded to today’s over 600,000 square feet. With the turn of the French Revolution, it became a museum in 1793, and now shows tens of thousands of artworks. I believe the most interesting aspect of the building itself is the combination of Renaissance architecture with its new modern pyramid design. While the Louvre as we see it is a 17th century structure, the iconic modern pyramid has only been in existence since 1993. I believe it was incredibly bold to add a modern structure in the very center of a museum which, at its very foundation, is nearly 1,000 years old. Of course, that is not what is visible to us, but the execution was widely controversial.
Stop 6: Porte de Clignancourt
Photos by Haven Blackmon
Near the northernmost line 4 stop of Porte de Clignancourt, is the village of Montmartre, which lies on top of a hill in northern Paris. At the very top of the hill lies the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, built in the late 1800s, which is the highest point in Paris. The basilica contains the largest mosaic in France, and is one of the largest in the world. The mosaic depicts Jesus surrounded by various saints and architecture. It is also in this village that some of the greatest European artists have lived and worked. Picasso, Manet, and Vincent Van Gogh were among the few who lived and worked here. Today, artists display and sell their own original works on the streets of Montmartre. It was also here that the bishop Saint Denis was decapitated and survived, carrying his own head for two miles while reciting psalms before his death, where the Saint Denis Basilica now stands.
The long history of Paris is not something that can be found anywhere in the United States. While the oldest structures man-made structures in the U.S. date back a mere few centuries, some remaining historical sites in Paris date back almost a millennium. After a month of becoming intimately familiar with the city of Paris, I have learned more about it than the city which I am from. Becoming so familiar with a city I am only visiting leaves me with the desire to discover more of my hometown, and appreciate what there is to learn. Simultaneously, the United States as a nation and my hometown are only recent history, so I cannot expect that there is as much to learn about a relatively new city as there is to learn about a city that has existed since BCE. Paris has taught me so much about European history and given me a newfound desire to learn about my own. My foundation here has given me a lens which I can look through to better understand my home.
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