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This is the fourth in a monthly series about the wonders of the Paris Metro System.
The mayor of Paris might sometimes hear rumblings … and not just the usual protests of disgruntled citizens. The sound is the distant thunder of the metro. The Hôtel de Ville metro station sits right under City Hall, so the vibrations are a part of life in the center of Paris.
This metro station in the 4th arrondissement was one of the eight original stations, built in 1900, as part of the east/west Line 1. Line 11 was added in 1935.
Devoid of ads, the walls pay tribute to the art and history of the city, so the station takes its rightful place on the list of “metro stations worthy of a more-than-transit visit.”
A Visual Reminder of Paris Spirit
The centerpiece of the station design are tile mosaics of the Paris coat of arms. Although you will find this emblem all over Paris — on street lamps, municipal buildings, schools, bridges, and the helmets of the Republican Guard — it is here in this station that you can spend time discovering the many embedded symbols.
The emblem first emerged in the 14th century and has evolved in the centuries since — even disappearing completely during certain periods of political history. But the image that has retained its prominence and focus is the silver sailing ship that rides atop a stormy sea against a red background.
The historical importance of merchant ships on the Seine is given power by the words Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, a Latin phrase added to the emblem by Haussmann in 1853 as the city was modernized. The phrase now embodies the courageous spirit of Paris, shown in force as it became a rallying cry after the terrorist attacks of 2015.
The most common translation is “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink.” My favorite translation threads some poetic spirit and zen philosophy into the phrase: “He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it.”
Whatever the translation, the meaning is clear. The city of Paris has an inner strength that makes it resilient in the face of challenges. Perhaps we will see this rallying cry emerge again as we rise from the pandemic.
The Paris coat of arms also has a sea of golden fleurs-de-lys against a blue background, a symbol of French royalty, and a frame of oak and laurel leaves symbolizing heroism.
The emblem is topped with a crenelated crown, reminiscent of the ramparts that once surrounded the city. Several medals of distinction dangle at the bottom: the Order of Liberation on the left (awarded for WWII action in the liberation of France), the Legion of Honor in the middle, and the Croix de Guerre on the right (begun in WWI for military heroism).
A Feast of Temporary Exhibits
Like the Louvre Rivoli station — last month’s Metro Magic focus — the Hôtel de Ville station offers a museum in transit. The platform walls focus on photography —showcasing emerging photographers and winners in RATP-sponsored competitions.
The most recent exhibit presents five young photographers as part of Circulation(s)—a Festival of Young European Photography, in conjunction with Le Centquatre. We travel from Benin to outer space and from a journey through daily pandemic life to mysterious Scandinavian landscapes.
British Bobby Beasley’s photographs were taken throughout 2020 when he, perhaps like all of us, began to create his own pandemic universe that focused on the simple pleasures of daily life.
His series title — “Roughly 1,000 Miles Per Hour” — came as his father tried to put the pandemic challenges in perspective. “We are all standing on a rock spinning at roughly 1,000 mph. We’re hurtling around a massive ball of fire in an infinite universe.” With those words, no challenge is too great.
Inka (Finnish) and Niclas (Swedish) Lindergard are an artistic couple who work together to present a unique integration of nature and humans. The photographs radiate otherworldly light (a result of flash bouncing off metallic materials) or throb with a rainbow of hyper-realistic colors to show that landscapes can be more than meets the normal eye.
Frenchman Benjamin Schmuck delves into the voodoo practice of Benin in his series “rising the wise.” The phrase refers to the Benin tradition of thanking elders, divinities, and the dead for advice they pass on. His images capture the mystery of the sacred ceremonies.
Italian Bianca Salvo lives in Columbia. In her series The Universe Makers, she visually analyzes how the media has represented outer space and how the images that we see in film and contemporary culture influence our view of what lies beyond. The series is particularly timely as we currently explore the surface of Mars and wonder what has been truth and what has been science fiction in portrayals of outer space.
In addition to the rich art and historical treasures inside the metro station, when you emerge, you are in the center of Paris. The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), Notre Dame, the Ile de la Cité, the Ile St-Louis, the Marais, the Seine, and the famous BHV department store are all within a few easy steps.
Bienvenue to the center of Paris.
Lead photo credit : The Hôtel de Ville Metro Station. Photo © Meredith Mullins