Over Under Project: Line 1
By Lily Duke of FIU on July 1st, 2022
The Parisian Metro Line 1 spans 10.3 miles, including many of the most iconic sites within the capital of France. From a medieval castle, to a modern business district, Line 1 demonstrates how multifaceted Paris is, allowing one to explore the city through 25 unique stops.
- La Défense
Exiting the metro station and entering La Défense was a surreal experience. I found myself confronted by a landscape that felt straight out of a dystopian novel. It’s highly likely that my distaste and shock derived from having become accustomed to the low skyline and beautiful architecture of central Paris. With that being said, the area of La Défense felt worlds away from Paris.
Like many stops on line 1, the commitment to satiating and exacerbating the chokehold of consumerism was seen in this area. The metro station itself was connected to a shopping mall, ensuring the utmost convenience for the consumer. I am sure that upon in depth exploration, one may find reasons to enjoy the area. However, the mall itself failed to compare to that of Les Halles and Carrousel du Louvre, rendering myself unlikely to ever feel the need to return to the La Défense.
La Défense felt lifeless and lacked character. While sculptures were placed throughout the area, no plaques or context were given to the artwork, therefore rendering its presence superficial and hollow, like artwork in a hotel placed to simply take up space. Unlike the rest of Paris, La Défense has failed to capture the essence of the city, resulting in an eerie and jarring atmosphere.
While researching La Défense, I came across information regarding the low skyline or the rest of the city. I had assumed that the majority of Paris was very low due to buildings being protected as historically significant and for aesthetic purposes. However, I discovered that, while the former reason may be partially true, the maintained city design results from the intricate and extensive tunnel layout below. If the buildings were to rise higher, the tunnels below would collapse. (Rowan, 2016) One can assume that La Défense does not have as many tunnels as central Paris, therefore allowing the presence of the high rises.
If my analysis of the area wasn’t obvious, I’ll explicitly state that La Défense was my least favorite area within Paris. While I understand and appreciate its necessity, as a business district, I found myself desperate to return to the city in which I had grown accustomed.
2. Porte Maillot
I personally found this stop extremely strange. One can see the return of traditional French architecture, while also seeing the modern presence across the river (La Défense). Furthermore, the initial area surrounding the metro was under construction, which is rarely seen within Paris. While we had moved closer to the Paris I had come to love, it still felt widely unfamiliar.
Just outside the metro stop is the Palais des Congrés, an event hall paired with a shopping center. This is the first mall I have visited where the stores were not open on a Sunday. While I am aware that French culture includes store closing on Sunday, I have seen many malls across Paris failing to do so. One can assume that this is a result of immense tourism and an unwillingness to miss out on the potential profit. The mall in question seemed to house rather expensive brands, and was overall rather pretentious looking. This leads one to believe that the establishment does not need to exploit consumerism or tourism, or at least wants to create the facade of such stance. Regardless, it was a unique experience to walk through an empty mall after having experienced the chaos of Les Halles (which will be touched upon later).
Paris has served as the backdrop to some of the most glamourous cultural moments. When one exits the Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau metro stop, the appeal is obvious. Lined with the most extravagant stores imaginable, and the Arc de Triomphe situated at the end of the road, it is challenging to not get swept away by the spectacle of it.
While I am the first to admit I love glitz and glamour, I did not feel drawn to this area. Perhaps in a future where money is in abundance and price tags are of no concern, I may feel differently. But I can confidently say I am not within the demographic that the street was designed for.
This street encapsulates the dangers of consumerism. A culture has been fostered that encourages one to believe they must buy certain items purely because of the name tag, and disregarding the price or necessity. This has resulted in unnecessary consumption, especially seen through the French tradition of seasonal wardrobes (which implies one must completely replace their closet with new clothing every season to stay fashionable). I strongly dislike this concept for many reasons, including environmental consequences and financial burdens.
In regard to nightlife, the area surrounding the Champs Élysées holds many high end options; I went to Le Duplex. While overall a fun experience, the expensive entry fee and cost of drinks felt unnecessary. This perspective could be easily applied to the entire area. When visiting Champs Élysées, one pays for a specific name on a shopping bag or a photo under a neon sign. I personally found much more enriching experiences in the Latin Quarter, where the culture feels significantly less pretentious.
After having read “The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette” by Deborah Cadbury, I was extremely excited to visit the Tuileries. However, somewhere along the lines, I had avoided the vital information that the Tuileries palace was burned down, and therefore, no longer exists. The area across from the Louvre that once housed and imprisoned French royals and emperors is now occupied by a beautiful park.
Catherine de’ Medici enlisted the assistance of architect Philibert de l’Orme (the mind behind Fontainebleau) to construct the Tuileries in 1564. After the death of her husband, Henry II, Catherine’s son took over the throne and she wanted a residence close to him. However, in 1570, Philibert died. Catherine went on to hire Jean Bullant, who had helped her in designing Château de Chenonceau after she took it from Henry II lover, Diane de Poitiers. I would have loved the opportunity to see the culmination of two architects who individually worked on other masterpieces within France. However, It almost feels more appropriate to have a park, beautiful and ever changing, built atop the ruins. As the Third Republic strengthened in France, those who opposed the governance protested within Paris.In 1889, the Tuileries were burned down by said insurgents, known as the Communards. This building represented the monarchy, and the abandonment and lack of commitment to democracy.
Furthermore, the Musée de l’Orangerie is located within the Tuileries, which feels like a perfect place to explore the artwork housed. Monet’s water lilies, as commissioned by the French prime minister Clemenceau, attract many to the museum, allowing one to get up close and personal with some of the most iconic pieces of art created. While smaller than the other museums we visited, this intimate experience was profound and potentially my favorite.
Walking the halls of the Musée du Louvre was an out of body experience; the amount of culture and history housed within one building was astonishing. Throughout my academic journey, I have studied various pieces of art. It was overwhelming to stand before them. The physical and original versions of said artwork were somewhat startling; they abruptly highlighted how these artists, revolutionary and world renowned, were human. The Mona Lisa was forged by human hands. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, featuring the goddess Nike, was a mortal creation. There is something quite jarring, yet inspiring, about being in the presence of true masterpieces.
Beyond the Musée du Louvre, the Louvre-Rivoli metro stop also connects one to an underground mall. I found this slightly strange, but was ultimately not surprised. The Louvre attracts about 9 million visitors a year (with recent years taking a dip in visitors due to the Covid). (Number of visitors to the louvre paris 2020 2021) Therefore, it makes sense that this is a location that one would deem profitable. Not to mention, the metro stop increases accessibility, as briefly touched upon when discussing La Défense. Once again, Paris has demonstrated its commitment to consumerism, which is inevitable in a city so heavily influenced by tourism.
Out of all the stops on Line 1, I visited Châtelet the most frequently. Whether it be due to its size (as it is connected to Les Halles) and subsequent ability to transfer to another line, or mall and surrounding shops, Châtelet is a hub of convenience. Joined to Les Halles, which is one of the largest stations underground in the world, While Châtelet was added to line 1 in 1977, it was not combined with Les Halles until 2018. This decision was made due to concerns over Les Halles ability to evacuate people during an emergency.
Châtelet sees significant foot traffic, rendering it a prime shopping destination. The area surrounding Châtelet is strongly dominated by the Westfield Forum des Halles (an underground mall). This is, at times, overwhelming. The shopping center is home to many of the most popular brands. Furthermore, the station of Châtelet-Les Halles is utilized widely by those who live outside the city but work within to get into Paris. Therefore, the mall is constantly overflowing with customers, creating a hectic environment. While I have attended this mall many times, some of my favorite moments within the area were elsewhere.
The restaurant, L’Escargot, sits a few minute walk away from Châtelet. This restaurant truly highlights that french dining is an experience rather than a means to satiate hunger. While pricey, I will recommend this restaurant to anyone who wants to fully embrace French culture.
7. Hôtel de Ville
Upon arriving at Hôtel de Ville, we attempted to enter the town hall, but we’re met by guards, who informed us the hall was only open to the public one day a year. The inability to enter the town hall as a tourist (which was completely understandable for safety and efficiency) highlighted how widely accessible the rest of Paris is. Upon failing to enter the city hall, we visited the tourism office sitting adjacent. While a fairly obvious sentiment, I was struck by how many excursions and museums the city has to offer, with walls of hundreds of colorful pamphlets surrounding the office. I was hit by an overwhelming sense of panic, as I realized I would not be able to do everything in the short remainder of the trip. However, I found solace in the strangest of ways.
The city preserves an interesting duality. So heavily dictated by tourism, it is amazing to see how authentic the local experience can be. Despite the plethora of popular tourist attractions, one can still fall in love with Paris in the backstreets and in quiet parks. In regard to the unease previously mentioned and the subsequent remedy, it was as simple as tapping my metro card as we left Hôtel de Ville. This objectively insignificant moment reminded me that I was not in Paris to simply be a tourist. For a month, I lived in Paris, fully immersed within the culture and openly embracing every aspect that makes the tourists come and the locals stay.
While a night river cruise across the Seine would have been amazing, I much more value the intimate and humble experiences, such as having a drink with friends on the river bank, our feet dangling off the edge.
Similar to the Tuileries, the name of the Bastille stop commemorates a building that no longer stands. In 1789, the Bastille prison was stormed. With the tension between the 3rd estate (the commoners) and the monarchy (King Louis XVI) had reached a head. Therefore, the people rose, and successfully stormed the Bastille prison, a building which wholly represented the dictatorial nature of the crown. This day, July 14th 1789, would later be remembered as Bastille Day, celebrated to honor the independence of France. In 1889, 100 years after the Bastille was stormed, the Eiffel Tower was completed, signifying a continued commitment to democracy and freedom.
During the french revolution, the Bastille was destroyed. As a result, a monument to what occurred and was subsequently achieved has been built in its place. Furthermore, a modern opera house also sits atop where the prison once was. Overall, this area is beautiful but made me appreciate how many other sites within Paris have endured and allow us to physically explore history.
9. Gare de Lyon
Paris is massive, spanning 105.4 km². Impressively, this city that attracts millions feels widely intimate and accessible. This can easily be attributed to the extensive and affordable transportation implemented throughout the city, a notable facet to this machine being the train station, Gare de Lyon. Throughout the year, the station is estimated to see around 110 million visitors. Connecting Paris with the rest of the country, this metro stop is crucial to the functionality and popularity of the city.
Gare de Lyon, along with the entirety of Line 1, highlighted how ineffective the transportation in Miami is. Once one comes westward, away from downtown, transportation severely declines, making the city much less accessible. As someone who does not drive, my ability to travel, and increased sense of agency within Paris was amazing. Unfortunately, it has also rendered me concerned as to how I will fare once I return to Miami.
10. Château de Vincennes
At the end of line 1 sits Château de Vincennes, a French castle surrounded by Paris. What I specifically enjoyed about this castle was how obvious the progression of time was. Each building within the grounds highlights a different period of French history. Within other castles, such as Fontainebleau, the inevitable updates to architecture and design (that come with new residents) were less notable due to consistency throughout the property. However, within Château de Vincennes, a medieval castle sits next to a rococo manor (resembling Versailles, which makes sense due to Louis XIV building it), both of which face a renaissance style church, completed under the leadership of King Henry II. Each building seems almost frozen in time, allowing one to compare and contrast the various rulers, styles and cultures throughout French history.
It’s important to note that I entered the castle grounds free of charge. With the mere flash of my student ID, I was given a ticket and allowed to explore almost 700 years of French history. This is a testament to the accessibility of Paris and the commitment to education and culture. Especially in a site where the most privileged figures within France are immortalized, I strongly appreciate the lack of exploitation.
Cadbury, D. (2003). The lost king of france: How Dna solved the mystery of the murdered son of Louis Xvi and Marie-Antoinette. St. Martin’s Griffen.
Gare de Lyon – Paris Tourist Office. en.parisinfo.com. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://en.parisinfo.com/transport/73400/Gare-de-Lyon
Number of visitors to the louvre paris 2020. Statista. (2021, August 5). Retrieved July 25, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/247419/yearly-visitors-to-the-louvre-in-paris/
Photograph: Ruins of the Tuileries Palace, grand vestibule and Place du Carrousel (May 1871). napoleon.org. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2022, from https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/paintings/photograph-ruins-of-the-tuileries-palace-grand-vestibule-and-place-du-carrousel-may-1871/#:~:text=The%20Palais%20des%20Tuileries,fires%20of%20a%20popular%20insurrection. Rowan, L. (2016, September 27). Why the City of Paris has virtually no tall buildings like every other bustling European metropolis. History Daily. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from https://historydaily.org/the-paris-tunnels-problem