Every year 1.520 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 newest addition to the Paris Metro, 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. There are plans for lines 15, 16, 17, and 18 to open at varying dates through 2030.
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.
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.