Urban Exploration in Paris

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Urban Exploration in Paris
The physical map of contemporary Paris hides a historical one charting over two millennia of subterranean foundations, passages, and conduits. Some stealthy Parisians aim to explore these hidden or inaccessible places. Their discoveries extend to prohibited spaces such as subways, underground graves, plus rooftops and all manner of neglected mansions, abandoned schools, warehouses and hospitals. This practice of exploring places closed to the public is called Urban Exploration or UrbEx. Urban explorers make clandestine visits to the quarries and catacombs of Paris. Viewers of the recent Netflix series Lupin, will know that the Paris catacombs carry on for miles further than the legal visits allow. But these “underground” activities can also hit the highest roofline where those with nerves of steel capture the great views and themselves at great heights. For me, the epitome of urban exploring is revealed in the story of one group of trespassers who took it upon themselves to slink into the Panthéon to restore a centuries-old-clock that sat silent for years. Although the administration of the Panthéon was less than pleased with the break-in, the explorers wanted to restart the ticking of the clock they said represented the heart of Western civilization. Most UrbEx is considered illegal; it’s forbidden to enter most of the spots visited. However, those curious and eager to travel back through the history of Paris can do so through these somewhat secret, yet legal, explorations. Remains of the Bastille visible at the Bastille Metro. © 石川 Shihchuan/ Wikimedia Commons The Remains of the Bastille In addition to the murals on the Line 1 platform of the Bastille metro station which commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, there are also pieces of the foundation of the actual fortress. Found in 1906 when work on the metro was underway, the engineers decided to leave the archeological site in tact. The artifacts representing the eastern moat walls of the Bastille are found on the line 5 platform: direction Bobigny-Pablo Picasso. Another piece of the Bastille is found in Square Henri-Galli at the corner of Boulevard Henri IV and Quai des Celestins. A large piece of the Bastille was unearthed in 1899, during excavations for the Paris metro and moved to this nearby square. The remains were part of one of the Bastille’s eight towers. The Arenes de Lutèce. © Mbzt/ Wikipedia Commons

Lead photo credit : Plan of the visitable Catacombes, drawn by the IGC (Inspection Générale des Carrières) in 1858. Public domain.

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • marilyn brouwer
    2021-12-06 03:45:33
    marilyn brouwer
    As always, fascinating and informative. Your research inspiring, Hazel!