Essential Architecture-  Paris

Paris Métro Entrances


Hector Guimard


all over Paris


1899 to 1905


Art Nouveau 


steel and glass 


Utility subway entrances
"Constructed like the Crystal Palace out of interchangeable, prefabricated cast iron and glass parts, Guimard created his métro system in opposition to the ruling taste of French classical culture...Guimard's system flourished, emerging overnight like the manifestation of some organic force, its sinuous green cast-iron tentacles erupting from the subterranean labyrinth to support a variety of barriers, pergolas, maps, hooded light fittings and glazed canopies. These surrealistic 'dragonfly's wings'—to quote a contemporary critic—received a mixed, not to say chauvinistic, press, the verdigris colour of their iron supports being regarded as German rather than French. This imaginative attempt to render the Orphic myth in modern terms was to be complemented later by the astringent technical forms of the elevated section of the métro, built to the designs of the architect Jean Camille-Formigé and the engineer Louis Biette." 

— Kenneth Frampton and Yukio Futagawa. Modern Architecture 1851-1945. p106. 
The Paris Métro (French: Métro de Paris) is the underground rapid transit system in Paris, France. It was expanded later by an additional express network known as the RER to reach further suburbs.

The system comprises 16 lines, identified by numbers from 1 to 14, with two minor lines, 3bis and 7bis, numbered thus because they used to be branches of their respective original lines and only later became independent. The company which originally managed the network was known as Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris (Paris Metropolitan Railway) or C.M.P, shortened as "Métropolitain". Already in its first years, that name was quickly abbreviated to Métro.

The development of the network took place during three main stages. Firstly, from the 1900s to the 1920s the core of the metro network exclusively inside Paris proper was developed. Then from the 1930s to the 1950s the network was extended to the near suburbs and expanded with the creation of line 11. And finally, from the 1960s to the 1980s, most extension focused on the developpment of the RER network. At the end of the 1990s, the fully automatic line 14 was created.

Technical summary
The métro network has 221.6 km (133.7 miles) of track and 380 stations (87 offering connection between lines). These figures do not include the RER network. The average distance between stations is approximately 562 m (1845 feet). All trains stop at all stations (though some stations are closed at certain times or days of the week). Each line has dedicated platforms, even at transfer stations (i.e., lines do not share platforms).

In 2004, the annual traffic on Paris metro lines totaled 1.336 billion passengers. The average speed the trains travel is 35 km/h while the maximum speed for all segments is 70 km/h (80 km/h on line 14), due to the underground restrictions. Circulation is on the right. There is a track gauge of 1.435 meters (standard gauge, like the French main lines) — but trains are narrower than on the main line, so the metro could run on main lines but not vice versa. Train length varies from line to line: three to six cars, depending on passenger volume. All trains on a given line always have the same number of cars. Power is collected from third rail, 750 V DC, except on the rubber-tired metro routes where the 750 V DC power is collected from the guide bars. Lines 1, 4, 6, 11, and 14 are rubber-tired. Line 14 is driverless (fully automatic).

The earliest lines (the ones that were dug out by hand) follow the roads above them. For instance, Line 1 follows the Champs Élysées in a perfectly straight line. This was due to the fact that because of poor construction techniques, the construction had to follow the roads; otherwise the workers would encounter cellars. This also explains why some stations (Commerce on line 8 and Liège on line 13) have platforms that do not face; the street above is too narrow.

One single ticket is good for any journey and unlimited connections within two hours, barring exit. Trains run from approximately 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day of the year.


By the end of the 19th century, the Paris authorities were quickly convinced of the necessity to build an underground rail network in order to solve the massive problems of traffic congestion in the very densely inhabitated city. However, those authorities hesitated between two solutions:

to extend the existing suburban lines to a newly built underground network, a solution similar to the one chosen by London authorities; 
to build a brand new and fully independent network which could not be connected with existing lines. 
After many years of hesitation, the second option was chosen.

Fulgence Bienvenüe project

On April 20, 1896, the Paris authorities adopted the Fulgence Bienvenüe network project, which would only serve the city proper of Paris. Many Parisians were worried that a network that could be extended in the industrial suburbs would reduce the safety of the city. As a result, the Paris authorities decided to forbid any development of the network to the inner suburbs. As a guarantee that such development would not occur, it was decided to make metro trains run on the right side, the opposite of existing suburban lines which run on the left side.

On July 19, 1900, the first line of the network, known as Maillot-Vincennes after the names of its terminus, was inaugurated during the Paris World's Fair. The entrances to the stations were conceived in the Art Nouveau style by the architect Hector Guimard. 86 entrances by Guimard still exist.

Fulgence Bienvenüe's project consisted of ten lines, which correspond to today's lines 1 to 9. The pace of construction was so intense that in 1920, despite a few changes from the original schedule, most of the planned lines had been completed. Lines 1 and 4 were conceived respectively as central east-west and central north-south lines. Two circular lines, known as ligne 2 Nord (line 2 North) and ligne 2 Sud (line 2 South) were originally planned, however, it was finally decided in 1906 to merge line 2 South with line 5. Line 3 was an additional east-west line to the north of line 1 and line 5 was an additional north-south line to the east of line 4. Line 6 would run only from Nation to Place d'Italie. Lines 7, 8 and 9 would connect commercial and office districts around the Opéra to more residential areas in the north east and the south west.

An additional circular line, known as ligne circulaire interieur (inner circular line) was also planned by Bienvenüe in order to connect the city's six main railway stations. The first portion of that line was inaugurated in 1923 between Invalides and the Boulevard Saint-Germain before being abandoned.

Nord-Sud : the competing network

On 31 January 1904, a second concession was granted to a company called the Société du chemin de fer électrique souterrain Nord-Sud de Paris (Paris North-South underground electrical railway company) and abbreviated to the Nord-Sud (North-South) company. It was responsible for building three proposed lines:

Unfortunately, despite all the Nord-Sud company's efforts, it did not manage to become profitable and bankruptcy became unavoidable. By the end of 1930, the C.M.P bought the Nord-Sud company. Line A became line 12 and line B became line 13. Line C has never been built.

1930-1950 : The first inner suburbs are reached
During the 20s, Fulgence Bienvenüe's project was nearly completed. As a consequence, the Paris authorities established a new development plan for the network, including three new lines and extensions of most lines to the inner suburbs, despite the reluctance of Parisians.

As the inner circular line planned by Bienvenüe had been abandonned, it was decided to use the already built portion between Duroc and Odéon for the creation of a new east-west line which would become today's line 10 and it would be extended west to Porte de Saint-Cloud and the inner suburbs of Boulogne.

The line C planned by the Nord-Sud company between Montparnasse station and Porte de Vanves would be finally built as line 14, and would be extended northbound in encompassing the already built portion between Invalides and Duroc which was initially planned as part of the inner circular line.

Because the funicular to Belleville was saturated, it was also decided to replace it by a new metro line, line 11, which would also be extended to Châtelet. Lines 10, 11 and 14 were thus the three new lines planned under this plan.

In addition, most existing lines would be extended to the inner suburbs. The first line to leave the city proper was line 9, extended in 1934 to Boulogne-Billancourt; many more would follow it in the 1930s. Unfortunately, World War 2 forced authorities to abandon various projects such as the extension of line 4 or 12 to northern suburbs. By 1949, eight lines had been extended outside of the city proper: line 1 to Neuilly and Vincennes, line 3 to Levallois-Perret, line 5 to Pantin, line 7 to Ivry, line 8 to Charenton, line 9 to Boulogne-Billancourt, line 11 to Les Lilas and line 12 to Issy-les-Moulineaux.

World War 2 had a massive impact on the Paris métro. During the German occupation, metro services are limited and many stations were closed. Because of the bombings risk, it was decided that the service between Place d'Italie and Etoile would be transferred from line 5 to line 6 so that most of the elevated portions of the Paris metro would be on a single line: line 6. As a result, lines 2 and 6 together now form a metro circle.

After the liberation by the Allied forces and the French Resistance in 1944, the network needed a long time to fully recover. Many stations had not yet reopened in the 1960s and some were finally closed, they would later be known as stations fantômes (Ghost stations). On March 23, 1948, French authorities created a new company by the merger of the C.M.P (managing the subway) and the STCRP (managing bus and tramways), known as the RATP and it is still the operator of the metro network.

1960-1990 : the development of the RER

During the 1950s, extensions of the network stopped. The RATP's efforts were concentrated in the modernization of the network which had become very outdated after 50 years of existence. The first replacements of the older Sprague trains began with experimental "articulated" train units and then with new MP-55 and MP-59 trains running on rubber wheels, some of the last of which are still in service today (line 4).

From 1950 to 1980, the population of the Paris metropolitan area boomed. Automobiles became more and more popular and suburbs were situated further and further from the city proper, which still maintained its 19th century boundaries. Paris' main railway stations, which were the termini of the suburban rail lines, were severely overcrowded during the rush hours. The problem was that it was very difficult to extend existing metro lines into the suburbs because the distance separating stations in the center was very short, on average less than 500 meters. As a consequence, any extension too far from the center would not be competitive as it would be far too slow.

In the 1960s, it was then decided to create the project that had been abandonned at the end of the 19th century: joining suburban lines to new underground portions in the city center. The proposed regional metro system would be known as the réseau express régional (regional express network) (RER).

The RER plan initially included one east-west line and two north-south lines. The RATP company bought two unprofitable SNCF lines - the Ligne de St-Germain (westbound) and the Ligne de Vincennes (eastbound) with the intent to join them and to serve multiple districts of central Paris with new underground stations. The new line created by this merger became RER A. The Ligne de Sceaux, which served the southern suburbs and was bought by the CMP in the 1930s, would be extended north to reach the new Charles de Gaulle Airport. This line would become RER B. Those new lines were inaugurated in 1977 and their wild success outperformed all the most optimistic forecasts on such a scale that, today, RER A is the most used urban rail line in the world with nearly 300 million journeys a year.

Because of the enormous cost of those two lines, the third planned line was abandonned and the French authorities decided that later developments of the RER network would be more cheaply developed by the SNCF company, along side its continued management of other suburban lines. However, the RER developed by the SNCF company would never match the success of the RATP's two RER lines. In 1979, SNCF developed RER C in joining the suburban lines of Gare d'Austerlitz and Gare d'Orsay, the former one becoming then a museum dedicated to impressionist paintings. During the 1980s, it would also develop RER D line, which was the second line planned by the initial RER schedule, but would serve Châtelet instead of République to reduce costs.

The same project of the 1960s also decided to merge lines 13 and 14 to create a quick connection between Saint-Lazare and Montparnasse thanks to a new full north-south line. Distance between stations on the lengthened line 13 differs from that on other lines in order to make it more 'express' and hence to extend it further in the suburbs. The new Line 13 was inaugurated on November 9, 1976.

1990-2010 : Eole and Météor

In May 1998, the new line 14 was inaugurated after a 70-year hiatus in inaugurating fully new metro (not RER) lines. That project, which was known during its conception as Météor (Métro Est-Ouest Rapide), was the first fully automatic line of the network and the first to feature platform screen doors to prevent suicides. It was conceived with extensions to the suburbs in mind, similar to the extensions of the line 13 during the 1970s. As a result, each stations are on average separated of one another by over one kilometer. Like the RER lines designed by the RATP, nearly all stations of line 14 located in the city proper offer connections with multiple metro lines. The line currently joins Bibliothèque to Saint-Lazare, but it is planned that it will serve later the current northwestern branch of the line 13 and the current southern branch of the line 7, both branches being extended deeper in the suburbs and alleviating congestion on overcrowded lines.

One year later, in 1999, the RER E was inaugurated as the latest extension to the network. Known during its conception as Eole (Est-Ouest Liaison Express), it is the fifth RER line serving Paris. Currently, the RER E terminates at Haussmann - Saint-Lazare, but a new project, financed by EPAD, the public authority managing the La Défense business district, should extend the line west into a proposed direct tunnel reaching La Défense - Grande Arche and connecting to the suburbs beyond.

August 10, 1903 The Couronnes Disaster (fire), 84 killed. 
August 6, 2005, fire breaks out on a train near the Simplon station. The fire injured at least 12 people before it was extinguished. Early reports blame an electrical short circuit as fire's cause. 

Bindi, A. & Lefeuvre, D. (1990). Le Métro de Paris: Histoire d'hier à demain, Rennes: Ouest-France. ISBN 2737302048. (French) 
Gaillard, M. (1991). Du Madeleine-Bastille à Météor: Histoire des transports Parisiens, Amiens: Martelle. ISBN 2878900138. (French) 
Hovey, Tamara. Paris Underground, New York: Orchard Books, 1991. ISBN 0531059316