Short History of the French Metro

Evidence of plans to build the métropolitain existed as early as 1845, though the first line was not completed until July 19, 1900. (Line 1, as it is still called, runs from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot.) Following the construction of the Eiffel Tower by eleven years, this elegant transportation system stole the show, and remains to this day a model of efficient public transportation.

While the engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe was in charge of construction, architect Hector Guimard is credited for the charming Art Nouveau entrances. The system has 199 km (124 miles) of track and 15 lines, shuttling 3500 cars on a precise schedule between 368 stations (not including RER stations), 87 of these offering connections between lines. It is said that every building in Paris is within 500 meters of a métro station. Roughly 6 million people per day patronize the métro, which employs 15000.

Some of the métro stations are worth a visit in their own right. For example, the stop for the Louvre (line 1) gives one the impression that the train has pulled into the Museum itself: the immaculate marble walls are lined with exhibits and replicas of art works, with glass cases containing various sculptures. On line 13, Varenne offers exhibits from the nearby Rodin Museum, while Liège is paneled with beautiful tiles. Abbesses (line 12) features murals alongside its spiral staircase leading to one of the more elaborate of Art Nouveau entrances.