- 1-HIDDEN PARISIAN METRO STATIONS
- 2- PARIS CATACOMBS TOUR, THE MOST POPULAR PARIS UNDERGROUND TOUR
- 3- LES CARRIÈRES DES CAPUCINS, THE BEST SECRET OF PARIS
- 4- PARIS SEWER MUSEUM AND THE HISTORY OF WATER IN PARIS
- 5- ROMAN LUTETIA’S SEWER SYSTEM
- 6- LA MAISON DU FONTAINIER AND ITS DISTRIBUTION POOLS
- 7- LE REGARD DE LA LANTERNE
- 8- MONTSOURIS WATER RESERVOIR
- 9- THE OTHER CANAL SAINT-MARTIN
- 10- PALAIS GARNIER’S SECRET UNDERGROUND LAKE
Paris really is a tale of two cities. There is the City of Light, above ground, with its beloved Eiffel Tower or Louvre Museum. This is the city that the world sees and loves. But there is also an underground Paris, (le Paris Souterrain or Hidden Paris), lesser known by visitors and locals and which is much more than the Paris Catacombs.
Although we enjoy walking the streets of Paris, the secret Paris underground city is an important subject of our quirky explorations. Indeed, the magnificent City of Light hides at least 130 kilometers of abandoned tunnels and secret places running below its streets.
This is our personal compilation of some really cool Paris hidden gems: from Roman Lutetia (Paris’ first settlement) to the current Parisian Metro, there is something for every taste.
There is no need to say that these Secret Paris underground tours are great things to do in Paris on a rainy day or when it’s too hot outside 😉
Secret Paris Best Reads
Most of these places are cold and humid, with slippery floors. We recommend bringing an extra layer, sneakers, and a scarf. Bring also a bottle of water (or warm tea or coffee) with you.
1-HIDDEN PARISIAN METRO STATIONS
With a daily ridership of 4.16 million (2015), the Parisian Metro is the most known part of underground Paris. The metro of Paris has 300 metro stations spread all over the city, you can see our favorite metro stations here. BUT the Parisian Metro also hides 18 abandoned metro stations. Amongst them, Porte des Lilas is the most popular hidden metro station because it is the one used for shooting movies. However, our favorite hidden metro station is Saint-Martin metro station. Located in the 2nd arrondissement in Paris, this station was closed after the Second World War due to its proximity of Strasbourg-Saint Denis metro station. This place is a step back in time because it still keeps the aesthetics and ceramic decoration of the thirties and its panels still advertise the products of that time. Saint Martin, being the ceramic workers’ saint patron, these workers executed really beautiful ceramic decoration, with 3D motifs for this metro station.
2- PARIS CATACOMBS TOUR, THE MOST POPULAR PARIS UNDERGROUND TOUR
The Paris Catacombs are underground quarries which were reused years later for stocking the bones of disappeared cemeteries in Paris. Paris Catacombs tours and visits are the most popular Paris underground tours amongst tourists, probably because of its original, spooky character. We must agree that the inscription at the Catacombs entrance « Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort » (=stop, here it’s the empire of Death) is very impressive, and all those skulls piled forming beautiful designs are fun. If you want to visit the Paris Catacombs, we recommend buying a Catacombs skip the line ticket or a Paris Catacombs Tour online in advance. Queues in front of Paris Catacombs entrance are always very long.
3- LES CARRIÈRES DES CAPUCINS, THE BEST SECRET OF PARIS
The famous Paris catacombs only represent the 0.5% of the Paris underground city. There are other places less easy to reach, sometimes forbidden places, which years ago were the object of clandestine parties and other kinds of meetings. A great, more local (and totally legal!) alternative to Paris Catacombs are the Carrières des Capucins. This limestone quarry located below Paris 14th, Paris 13th and Paris 5th is maintained and enhanced by a non-profit association, in the form of a museum. Their unusual and rather confidential torchlight tours unveil part of the city’s exceptional industrial heritage (the world of underground quarries) and some interesting curiosities. This tour (in French) is also a step back in time: indeed, under the streets of the 21st century, the Paris of the XVIIIth century still exists inside the Quarries of the Capuchins.
READ MORE – Paris Underground: les Carrières des Capucins
4- PARIS SEWER MUSEUM AND THE HISTORY OF WATER IN PARIS
This is a quirky but very interesting visit that we always recommend. The Paris Sewer Museum details along 500 m of their tunnels the history of the sewer system and water in Paris from the former Roman city of Lutetia, Paris’ first name, to its modern structure (XIX century). The museum also explains the sewer workers’ role and the methods of water treatment. We were happy to know that Paris is the city which has the biggest and most modern sewer system in the world!
5- ROMAN LUTETIA’S SEWER SYSTEM
Everybody knows about Paris Lutetia’s thermae, located inside Cluny Museum in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris. But how Romans brought water from the Seine river up to these public baths? Romans had also an efficient sewer system and you can see a part of it just below the Roman baths. These underground galleries can be visited only during the museum’s (unusual) guided visits to the Roman Baths and Underground Galleries. The visits are in French but even if you don’t speak the language we would not miss the opportunity to see this hidden Roman heritage. Cluny Museum will be closed for works from 1st March 2018 to Mid-July 2018. If you are visiting Paris after these dates, you can check their scheduled guided visits here.
6- LA MAISON DU FONTAINIER AND ITS DISTRIBUTION POOLS
During the XVIIth century, King Henry IV of France ordered to build a new aqueduct to bring water in Paris left bank. This new aqueduct, known as Aqueduct Medicis, was 13 kilometers long and could be accessed for inspection through 27 different inspection chambers called regards. Chamber #27, also called Grand regard de l’Observatoire, was the inspection chamber at the end of the aqueduct and above this regard, the house for the Intendant General of the Waters and Fountains of the King (commonly known as le Fontainier) was built.
What is interesting about this place is not the house itself but what’s below the ground. At this point, the waters of the aqueduct were finally gathered before being distributed to the city. The grounds of the house were divided into three different vaulted halls, each one with its own distribution pool. The king’s distribution pool was obviously the biggest. Then, there was also a distribution pool for the religious men and their monasteries and convents. Finally, the third distribution pool (the smallest) brought water for the rest of the city. Later in 1845, engineers Lefort and Mary built a large reservoir-hall to store the overflow of water that drains at night. This tank-hall is connected to the old distribution pools through a large pipe. Crossing the pipe from the old distribution pools to the tank-hall is the most celebrated part of the guided visit, especially by kids.
On the picture above you can see the arrival of water from the aqueduct to the distribution pool for the religious men. La Maison du Fontainier can be visited during special events like les Journées du Patrimoine.
7- LE REGARD DE LA LANTERNE
Today 18 regards (=inspection chambers) still exist in the city but only eight are still visible and le Regard de la Lanterne is the most beautiful of all. This cylindrical, stone building located in Paris 19 was built during the XVIth – XVIIth century as the main inspection chamber for Belleville Aqueduct. This aqueduct was bringing in the past water in Paris right bank from Belleville hills.
We live not far from this little construction and we were curious to know what was hiding inside. Finally, during the last Journées du Patrimoine we could go down and see the well and the underground pipes, beautifully illuminated for the occasion. This little regard is covered by a dome surmounted by a lantern which allowed the circulation of fresh air inside. Today this regard no longer has any technical function but it continues to receive water from the Belleville water table.
8- MONTSOURIS WATER RESERVOIR
This is the most beautiful site of Paris Souterrain. Unfortunately, Montsouris Reservoir (Paris 14) is classed as “sensitive site” (this is an important water storage unit for the city) and guided visits are today very rare. Le Reservoir de Montsouris is a massive underground water storage facility built in 1874. It looks like a beautiful underground cathedral with arched stone walkways in every direction and filled with turquoise water. You can see more pictures of this spectacular site here.
9- THE OTHER CANAL SAINT-MARTIN
Photo Courtesy: @Marin d’Eau Douce
The Canal Saint-Martin was designed by Napoleon‘s engineers in the XIXth century to bring drinking water in Paris. The Canal connects the Bassin de la Villette to the Seine upstream with a drop of twenty-five meters. Canal Saint-Martin has nine locks and two swing bridges and it measures 4.5 km long, more than 2 km of which is underground. The canal’s underground part is covered by a vault which was illuminated every year by the Japanese artist Keiichi Tahara (he died on 6th June 2017 so let’s see what happens from this year). Tahara’s installations illuminated the vault unexpectedly at the passage of the cruise boats. This part of the canal is also frequently used for shooting films. Movies like Ratatouille or Queen Margot filmed some of their scenes here. The Canal Saint-Martin cruise is a beautiful boat cruise with a much more local feeling than the Seine river cruises. It is proposed by Canauxrama, Paris Canal, and Marin d’Eau Douce (only sometimes, on request).
10- PALAIS GARNIER’S SECRET UNDERGROUND LAKE
This is, in our opinion, the most fascinating secret of Paris. There are lots of mysteries and legends around l’Opéra de Paris. were just stories? On the book, Erik the phantom is a deformed architect who helped to build the Paris Opera while at the same time he secretly built below its grounds an underground palace for himself, with a vast subterranean lake. This lake really exists and it is located exactly below the opera scenario. Yes, the ballet dancers are somehow dancing over the water!
When the opera’s foundation works started in 1852, the architects realized that they were digging into a marshy area where the groundwater was very high. Charles Garnier, the main architect, had the idea of incorporating a cistern into his design to redistribute the water and relieve the water pressure on the basement walls. The cistern is usually full of water, like a lake, to be used by firemen in case of fire.
We would really love to see this place by ourselves but only a few people have access to this subterranean lake. This means that the lake is not part of the Paris Opera guided tours but the building itself and its story are so fascinating that we recommend to visit it anyway.
We hope you enjoyed exploring these Paris hidden gems with us. Which of these Paris underground sites would you like to visit right now?
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