Everyone recognizes Paris by its monuments, but fewer people realize what is under Paris. There is an entire city hidden under the city of lights. Even those who have visited Paris don’t always realize just how interesting the area under Paris is! And if you don’t know, your students definitely don’t! I like to do a lesson or two about what is hidden there and my students enjoy learning about this less well-known, sometimes spooky side of Paris.
So what exactly is under Paris?
There are some parts of underground Paris that are well-known and easily accessible to tourists. Other areas, not so much. Without special knowledge or a guide, you are unlikely to have the chance to visit these places.
Under Paris: the Metro
The most obvious underground area is the Metro. The system of tunnels that makes up the Parisian mass transit train system covers quite a bit of space and is very easy to visit. For the cheap cost of a ticket, you can easily explore the different stations and passageways under Paris. It also happens to be the most convenient way to get around, so it’s highly likely that anyone who visits the city of light will have a chance to see it. The RATP has an extensive website with information about the different train lines, cost of travel, how to buy a ticket and an itinerary planner. Some of the metro stations are particularly interesting.
Under Paris: the Catacombs
Many of your students will be familiar with the Paris Catacombs. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions under Paris! It has been featured in movies and is particularly popular around Halloween. It was built after the other Parisian cemeteries were full and became the final resting place of more than six million people! It’s got a lot of spooky ambiance and was even used as an AirBnB for a contest a few years ago.
As the monument is quite popular, it can involve arriving early and waiting in line for tickets and a chance to enter. The space is limited, so they only allow a small number of visitors at a time. While the catacombs are safe to visit, there are areas that are off-limits to tourists. This makes it more attractive to a certain type of visitor, and while there is a report of someone getting lost forever, these accounts are more sensationalized than corroborated.
Under Paris: the sewers
While everyone realizes that there are sewers under the ground they walk on, they may not realize that the Paris sewers are a tourist attraction! There’s an entire museum devoted to the sewer system with a tour of part of the system. The modern sewers have only been around since the 1800’s and reflect the growth of the city above. The original system was replaced as part of Haussman’s rebuild of the city and tours of the sewers became popular shortly after that.
Under Paris: urban eXperiment
The connection of tunnels and large underground rooms has led to the growth of an underground society – urban eXperiment. uX is a secretive group of people who enjoy a wide variety of things, but they really like doing things under Paris, in secret! They have turned a large empty space into a movie theater, as well as doing some activities above the surface. Some of the members of uX are cataphiles – those who love the underground for itself, while others enjoy the social gatherings and tweaking the nose of the authorities.
Teaching about the Paris underground
i find this subject fascinating, as do my students. I’ve written several reading activities for intermediate and advanced students. You might find them interesting – take a look!