Down and Dirty: Explore the Paris Sewers at Musée des Égouts

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Down and Dirty: Explore the Paris Sewers at Musée des Égouts
“The sewer is the conscience of the city,” prophesied Victor Hugo with bizarre fascination in his magnum opus, Les Misérables, first published in 1862. But if Paris is a city rhapsodized for its grandiose exterior, you’d be forgiven for not having explored the recently renovated Musée des Égouts de Paris, a quirky museum which, rather than celebrating the visible, transports you into Paris’s murky depths. Indeed, underneath Paris lies another Paris – a Paris which sighs beneath the weight of a city replete with superlatives, but which nonetheless has plenty to offer. Acting as air-raid shelters during the Nazi Occupation and commandeered by the Resistance as first-aid stations during Paris’s liberation in 1944, history winds its way down the tunnels of Paris’s sewers, dormant underneath the buzz of life above it, waiting to be discovered by those who look beyond the quotidian. Exterior of Musée des Egouts. @ Olivier Placet The Musée des Égouts de Paris in the 7th arrondissement, just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, takes you through the history of the sewers in the very place where all the action happens. Although the network is labyrinthine in its nature, art-deco style road signs within the sewers correspond to those which adorn Paris’s street corners, helping the vidangeurs to orientate themselves within the maze of passages. While rats are unwelcome visitors around the Sacré-Cœur and the Marais, in the égouts, rats are a worker’s best friend. The sewer workers rely on their furry friends to inform them about which areas have potentially fatal levels of noxious gases, indicated by the rodents running in the opposite direction. Our tour guide explained that the rats we see above ground, who are unafraid of the presence of humans, are a rotund species, thanks to the scraps of croissant crumbs dropped by peckish Parisian commuters. The species found in the sewers, however, are far smaller and terrified of coming face to face with a sewer worker.
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Lead photo credit : Inside Musée des Egouts. @ Olivier Placet

More in architecture, history, Museum, Sewer Museum

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Claudia lived in Paris for six months during a year abroad which she did as part of her French and Spanish degree at Durham University. With a penchant for all things culture, languages, food and flânerie, she quickly discovered why it is that the French capital is so widely celebrated. While she was in Paris, she started writing for Ma Vie Francaise, an online-based publication about Francophone cultures. After completing an MA in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London last year, she’s currently working as an editorial intern at Monocle Magazine, a globally-minded publication which focuses on culture, urbanism and business. Her favorite Parisian hidden gem is the Musée de la Vie Romantique, and if you’re a gourmand(e), she recommends paying a visit to the Rue des Martyrs.

Comments

  • Barnaby Conrad
    2022-10-27 05:56:11
    Barnaby Conrad
    Your article on the sewers of Paris was terrific, Mlle. Jacob!

    REPLY

    •  Claudia Jacob
      2022-10-28 11:23:55
      Claudia Jacob
      Merci beaucoup Barnaby! Glad you enjoyed reading it.

      REPLY