Over Under Paris by Yahnell Judah
Metro Line 1
Metro Line 1 crosses Paris from east to west and is the most used line, transporting over 200 million passengers every year. This is due to the proximity to many national monuments and tourist destinations and because it has more connections to other lines and RERs than any other single line in Paris. It is one of the 16 lines currently making up the metro system and connects the La Défense and Château de Vincennes stations, stretching a length of 10.3 miles. In this project I will be exploring the history of the stations I chose to go to and the effects of the historical events on my present day observations of the surrounding areas.
La Défense is the western end to Metro Line 1. It brings many people to their jobs every day as it is located just underneath the business district slightly left of Paris. This area was not always the business district, in fact the skyscrapers and towers it is known for were not erected until around 1965. Paris saw an economic boom in the early 1970s and this sector then grew in proportion. As more people began to work in this district, more public transportation options were made available, including an RER rail line connecting the area and the Place de l’Étoile. There was an economic crisis that primarily affected La Défense at around 1974 to 1977 but with their recovery came new projects that offered a greater diversity in architecture and in culture. In 2005, a renewal of La Défense occurred and projects such as the renovation of old buildings, construction of new office space and new monuments made La Défense what we see it as today.
First stepping out of the terminal to see where we were, I was very surprised and in awe. Not only was La Défense extremely different than the rest of Paris, it looked even more futuristic than any area I’ve seen before, even more than some places in Miami. I was surprised at the way they used space, to not only make the buildings look like they were a hundred years ahead of modern architecture but also in that they incorporated green areas. I feel as though many business sectors fail in doing this, making them tiring places to work everyday but this business district offered areas of running water, bright colors, and gardens to allow for mental breaks from the hustle and bustle of the work day.
Bastille is a station on three of the 16 metro lines of Paris: the 1, 5 and 8. The location surrounding the Bastille station is significant in French history. The Bastille was a fortress built around 1380 to hold weapons and be a stronghold. It was taken control of on several occasions but the most famous being on July 14th, 1789, when the people of Paris took hold of the fortress and took the gunpowder held there while also freeing several prisoners. This marked an important moment in the French Revolution and is still celebrated today, as Bastille Day. The column seen there today is to recognize the overthrowing of Charles X.
With how much historical significance is related to this area, I thought that there would be more recognition given to the Bastille. Having researched it beforehand, I knew only a monument stood in its place but for some reason I was expecting something larger, especially since on Bastille Day, Paris hosts large celebrations and the Eiffel Tower is the center of a firework and music display. Right next to the monument there are restaurants and cafes named after the Bastille, which sort of solidified its place. However, overall I think that the Bastille itself is not so important as what it stands for, and what it represents is seen throughout Paris, not in a single monument to its existence.
Charles de Gaulle- Étoile
Charles de Gaulle- Étoile was originally called Étoile, after its location, but then the name of President Charles de Gaulle was added in the 1970s. President de Gaulle was a very revolutionary figure in WWII as he advocated for the rejection of the idea that France was defeated and encouraged his people to continue to fight. It is another popular metro station, serving lines 1, 2 and 6. The station sits underneath the western side of the Avenue de Champs-Elysees and under the Arc de Triomphe, one of the most widely known monuments in Paris. This large structure has the names of famous generals and battles that were engraved in 1836 and honors the unknown soldier with a tomb and an eternal flame. Place d’Étoile, where it stands, is named after the star formed by the 12 avenues that radiate out from it.
I’ve studied the Arc de Triomphe in school as an art history lesson but this is really a structure that has to be seen in person, emerging from the subway station to see it in the near distance is breathtaking because you don’t realize how large and intimidating a structure 50 meters tall can be. Besides it being intimidating, I’m always impressed by the propaganda artwork on the side, the high panel reliefs really make you believe that a better and more prosperous country will arise. It is amazing to me that this monument is just surrounded by a circular road with a lot of traffic because it feels as though it should be in isolation, no modern thing is worthy of being next to it. However, despite this initial impression, I find it a good thing that it is surrounded by the stores of the Champs-Elysees because it helps keep modern people interested in something that was finished being created 183 years ago.
Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre
This station of Line 1 was one of the original eight stations used when the line first started running. Like many stations, it’s original name was changed and this occurred in 1989 at the opening of the Louvre museum. The Louvre attracts over 9 million tourists a year, being the canon usually used for art history education and therefore being of interest to anyone interested in art history. The entrance on Place Colette is one of the most notable things about the station itself, having been designed by Jean-Michael Othoniel. He used colored beads to make a very unusual entrance surrounded by a very traditional area. Originally the Louvre- Rivoli also lead to the entrance of the Louvre but it no longer provides direct access.
I honestly do not know how I can describe the Louvre in a way that does it the justice it deserves. To put bluntly, it was beautiful. To extend that thought, it was awe inspiring, motivating, tear jerking, incredible. All of the works that I had seen in my art history books were right in front of me, the ones I had written essays about and memorized the names of the painters, sculptors, artists who created them with their bare hands. The most amazing to me, especially to witness in person, was Bernini’s Hermaphrodite. How he managed to make stone appear soft enough for me to jump in will forever be lost to me, but I appreciate it greatly. One downside to the Louvre is that obviously, it is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, meaning the food and culture surrounding the museum were very superficial and not as authentic as I found the rest of Paris to be.
The Louvre Rivoli station was not one of the original eight stations in metro line 1 but it was implemented just a month after the others in August of 1990. Its original name was changed once the museum opened, as was the case with the Palais Royal- Musee du Louvre station. It used to have direct access to the museum entrance but no longer does. This station is the first station to be culturally decorated, it holds replicas of some of the most famous museum pieces. Full renovations occurred in 2014 and that is the station seen today.
Unlike the other stations, with this one I really enjoyed the platform itself. I felt like I could get a taste of the rich history and culture of Paris right from the second I stepped off of the train. The lighting and colors really interested me. Again differing from other stations, this one gives every user of the metro a museum atmosphere, with its lighting and dark color scheme. Even the seats are different to create this illusion. I personally love that the culture in Paris is so accessible to everyone and this is the embodiment of that.
The Saint Paul station opened August of 1900, less than twenty days after trains first began running along the metro line. This area is famous for Le Marais (the marsh) where both the gay district and the Jewish district lie. Because of the unique gathering here, it displays many buildings and areas of architectural and cultural significance. This area was once known to be “shabby” but now is rather trendy. Jewish people have been living in this area since the end of the 19th century, and was called the Pltezl. During WWII when Jews were being prosecuted, this area diminished in its original population but has made a comeback since. Le Marais is also home to many art galleries, trendy places to eat, and fashion displays.
The area around Saint Paul was one of my favorites. It was nice to see underrepresented groups in an area that was predominantly minority filled because the culture expressed there is different than what is seen in the majority of Paris. The gay district I found to be rather explicit but since it was seen everywhere in the district, it made it more mundane and the explicit nature was not looked down upon and could just be enjoyed for the entertainment factor by tourists such as myself. I love seeing minority groups being able to express themselves freely and so I loved this area. The Jewish district was also pleasant to walk through but obviously in a different way. I liked the selections of food present and the synagogues were beautiful. Besides the Le Marais area, there was a very little visited church that I stopped which I wish would be appreciated more. The architecture was on par with a lot of other famous churches and it is unusual because it was the first southern facing church.
Champs Élysées- Clemeceau
This station was one of the eight original running when metro line 1 first opened. It is one of the few stations that lead to the Avenue des Champs Élysées. The official residence of the President is located north of the station and to the south are both the Grand Palace and the Petite Palace. The Avenue is well renowned as one of the most beautiful avenues in the world and makes for a fantastic day of shopping. Luxury brands have stores there alongside more practical brands such as Zara and Nike. On Bastille Day this Avenue holds a large national parade to celebrate and this Avenue also hosts the ending of the Tour de France. A trip to Paris is not complete without visiting the Avenue des Champs Élysées and luckily, this metro station drops many tourists every year right there.
The commercialism concentrated in this one area is heavy and intimidating but also extremely impressive. Every brand that is known to be anything is located on this one street, even if they don’t make a lot of money at that location, it’s a status symbol. The Louis Vuitton was extraordinarily remarkable, with the ferraris and other expensive cars parked in the front. Walking down that street gives a feeling of luxury, even if only for a little bit. I found it interesting that people of all socio-economic status were socially encouraged to walk in and look around whereas at any other locations of these luxury brand stores, they run the risk of being looked down upon by the employees working on commission. It was a welcoming atmosphere to show off what the brand can produce, and for people (like myself) that can’t afford these things on a regular basis, it was a unique experience.
This station is located under Rue de Rivoli on the east- west axis of metro line 1. The Jardin des Tuileries are near, which is what the stop is named after. The gardens were constructed and shaped under the reign of Louis XIV and under the direction of his royal landscaper. The gardens are known for mixing the traditional Italian garden structure with the shaped bushes and trees belonging to French culture. Being that this was the same landscaper who oversaw the Versailles gardens, nothing but the best is to be expected and he certainly delivered. Artwork decorated the gardens in structural components such as fountains but it also holds two world famous art museums: the Galerie Nationals du Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which holds Monet’s Water Lillies.
The second I stepped out of this station, I saw a fair that was being held. Children were yelling on rides and begging their parents for cotton candy and it reminded me of the Miami Dade County fair but on a smaller level. I also liked that I was just able to walk in for free, which is a testament to Parisian culture and its accessibility. Outside of the fair, I ran into the gardens. I was awestruck by the beauty of a particular statue, one of Theseus defeating the Minotaur. Having just seen a section of Minotaur paintings and sketches by Picasso in the Picasso museum earlier, it was interesting to see the differences in how the monster was depicted in the art pieces. I was able to enter the Musée de l’Orangerie during class and I appreciated the water lillies and how the subject of the painting paralleled the nature dominated area just outdoors. The park was very busy with tourists exploring the gardens and heading to the museums.
The Châtelet station is the ninth busiest metro station in the Paris metro system. It has connections from the 1 to the 4, 7, 11, and 14 and multiple connections to RERs and is the largest underground station in the entire world. It is named after the Place du Châtelet, a public square on the right bank of the river Seine. The square holds two theaters, designed by Gabriel Davioud and a fountain designed by Francois Jean Bralle. This fountain shows four figures, allegorically known as Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Strength and the fountain also pays tribute to many battles won. Along the streets outside of the station are also many shopping areas and restaurants within walking distance. Tune Chatelet area is known for its liveliness.
Busy. The area surrounding Châtelet is busy with residents, workers, tourists and everyone else you could think of exiting from one of the five metro lines that merge at this location. This area definitely markets to tourist, which to be fair, most of Paris does. There are plenty of souvenir shops scattered around and some stores that may not sell legitimate items but are packed all the same. The les Halles shopping mall was a little further down from the entrance to Chatelet but still in the same area and it had a lot of the stores from the U.S such as Foot Locker or places to eat such as Starbucks. This area was sort of hidden behind a lot of construction but with that you could tell that this area is constantly developing.
Concorde is the only metro station I know of to have a world famous poem based on it: “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound. The station is named after the Place de la Concorde, one of the most popular public squares in the city. For a short time, this plaza was actually named the Place de la Revolution and a statue of King Louis XV was torn down followed by the beheading of King Louis XVI. Marie Antoinette was also beheaded here. The name of the square was eventually changed after the revolution as a gesture of reconciliation. It is located between the Champs-Élysées and the gardens of Tuileries. Directly in the middle of the plaza stands the Obelisk of Luxor, which praises Pharaoh Ramesses II and was given to the French from Egypt. The fountains are another tourist attraction and important monument, the North fountain representing rivers and the South fountain representing the seas.
Knowing that Marie Antoinette and many other important political figures of the time were guillotined here was unsettling. As beautiful as the area was, I couldn’t help but imagine their final ride to their deaths. However, it helped that it has obviously been remodeled since then, since the function of the square became entirely different. The obelisk was absolutely stunning, with the gold capped top, it offered a break from French and Western European culture in a monumental way. To one side of the monument, I could see the gardens of Tuileries and on the other marked the beginning of the Champs Élysées. Both of these classic tourist designations on each side seemed to juxtapose each other but in a way that I found to be very complimentary to both sides.
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