The Paris Métro is a symbol of Paris. Its significant features, such as the density within the city limits and uniform architecture influenced by Art Nouveau, are universally recognised. Its 16 lines are mostly underground and run to 226 km in length. There are 384 stops, including 301 stations, of 62 which facilitate transfer to another line.
Being identified on maps by number and colour, the lines are numbered 1 to 14, with two minor lines, 3bis and 7bis. The minor lines were originally part of lines 3 and 7 but became independent. Paris has the second busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow. It carries 4.5 million passengers a day, and an annual total of 1.479 billion (2009). Châtelet – Les Halles, with five Métro lines and three RER commuter rail lines, is the world’s largest metro station.
Métro is the abbreviated name of the company which originally operated most of the network: La Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris, shortened to ‘Le Métropolitain’. The word became a common name used to designate all underground networks in and outside France.
The Métro today is operated by the Régie autonome des transports parisiens (RATP), a public transport authority that also operates part of the RER network, bus services, light rail lines and many Paris bus routes.
Starting on the 26th of June, 2012, the Paris Métro introduced Wi-Fi coverage for most stations. Access is free to users, and a premium-paid offer is provided for a faster internet connection.
The first line opened without ceremony on 19 July 1900, during the Exposition Universelle. The system expanded quickly until World War I and the core was complete by the 1920s. Extensions into suburbs were built in the consecutive decade.
Prior to 1845, Paris’s urban transport network consisted primarily of a large system of bus lines, consolidated by the French national government into a regulated system with fixed and nonconflicting routes and schedules.
In 1855, civil engineers Edouard Brame and Eugene Flachat proposed an underground freight urban railroad for Paris, due to the high rate of accidents on surface rail lines. Sixteen years later, the General Council of the Seine commissioned a team of 40 engineers to plan an urban rail network. This team proposed a network with a pattern of routes ‘resembling a cross enclosed in a circle’ with axial routes following large boulevards. The following year the Council endorsed the plan, but the French national government turned it down.
After this point, a serious debate occurred over whether the new system should consist of elevated lines or of mostly underground lines. This debate involved numerous parties in France (including Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant, and the Eiffel Society of Gustave Eiffel) and continued until 1892.
Eventually, the underground option emerged as the preferred solution because of the high cost of buying land for rights-of-way in downtown Paris (required for building elevated lines), estimated at 70,000 francs per metre of line for a 20-metre-wide railroad.
Construction began on November 1898. The first line, Porte Maillot–Porte de Vincennes, was inaugurated on 19 July 1900 during the Paris World’s Fair.
From the original plain white tile work and Art Nouveau entrances, station decoration has evolved with successive waves of building and renovation. After experiments with diverse colour schemes, furniture and lighting, since 1999 the renovation programme has brought a reversion to the original design of the network.
Paris Métro train halls are decorated in a style defined at the Métro’s opening in 1900. Standard vaulted stations are lined by small white earthenware tiles, chosen because of the poor efficiency of early 20th-century electric lighting. The spirit of this aesthetic has generally been respected in the various renovations since then.
From the outset walls have been used for advertising; posters in early stations are framed by coloured tiles with the name of the original network operator (CMP or Nord Sud). Station names are usually inscribed in white onto blue metallic plaques (CMP) or in white tiles on a background of blue tiles (Nord Sud).
From the end of the 1960s a new style was rolled out in around 20 stations. The original white tiles were replaced to a height of 2 metres with non-bevelled tiles in various shades of orange. Intended to be warm and dynamic, the renovations proved unpopular. From 1975 certain stations were redecorated in the Motte style, which emphasised original white tiling but brought touches of colour to light fixtures, seating and the walls of connecting tunnels. The subsequent Ouï Dire style features audaciously shaped seats and light housings with complementary multi-coloured uplighting.
A number of stations have original decorations to reflect the cultural significance of their locations. The first to receive this treatment was Louvre – Rivoli on line 1, which contains copies of the masterpieces on display at the museum above. Other notable examples of theme-decorated stations include Bastille (line 1), Saint-Germain-des-Prés (line 4), Cluny – La Sorbonne (line 10) and Arts et Métiers (line 11).
The Métro’s original Art Nouveau entrances, of which over 80 still exist, are iconic symbols of Paris. They were designed by Hector Guimard in a style that caused some surprise and controversy in 1900. The most elaborate feature glass canopies. Three of those survive: at Porte Dauphine, Abbesses, and at the intersection of Rue des Halles and Rue Sainte-Opportune. The rest have a cast-iron balustrade decorated in plant-like motifs, accompanied by a ‘Métropolitain’ sign supported by two orange globes atop ornate cast-iron supports in the form of plant stems. Several of the Guimard entrances have been given to other cities.