Friday, 10 April 2009

Métropolitain

Living in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century can't have been much fun. The Métro was being built and most of it wasn't tunnelled like the London Underground but by various cut-and-cover methods, particularly using steel caissons which could be assembled on the surface and then lowered into a trench. They even froze the Seine at one point so that they could bury a caisson under it. The construction was supervised over three decades by a one-armed man called Fulgence Bienvenüe.





1900-1905: Final assembly of a caisson to be buried in the place St-Michel










1900-1910: Digging a trench in the avenue de l'Opéra





That this was possible was due to the work of Georges-Eugène Haussmann who, under a commission by Napoleon III, created a new Paris with wide tree-lined boulevards and extensive gardens which replaced the narrow twisting streets of the old Paris. Thus, much of the Métro could simply run in straight lines down the centre of the wide roads. But of course this meant that for years Paris was a building site. From these two photos you can get an idea of how awful this must have been for the residents.

Better still, open this PowerPoint file which has more photos of Paris with the work going on. You don't have to click through all 85 of them, but they are worth a look. And if you have your loudspeakers switched on you will hear Le Trou de Mon Quai, "une p'tite chansonnette métropolitaine", a manic but charming ditty written and recorded in 1906 by someone called Dranem who cackles away as if he was having a really good time amid all the suffering of his fellow-citizens.

Thanks to Thierry Fournier for the link

6 comments:

eric said...

I'm very curious to know how they went about deliberately freezing the Seine? That sounds like quite a feat.

Grumio said...

A very timely post. Scruffy old Soho has just endured two years of horrendous misery from the decades overdue replacement of Victorian water pipes (with plastic ones of a smaller bore delivering lower pressure and built to last a significantly shorter time than those Victorian ones). NOW, the same area will be wrenched asunder by Crossrail – a scheme which was supposed to have been finished more than a dozen years ago. The misery will last some ten years, perhaps a third of the working lives of the individuals whose small businesses make up the character of the area which makes it a destination in the first place.

I don't know why they got rid of sedan chairs. And thank goodness I still have mine, and Omar and his chum to carry it.

Tony said...

Clearly, Soho needs a Dranem to cheer you all up.

Tony said...

Eric: Well, I don't know, either. The pictures (8th and 59th) don't really show how they did it.

johnf said...

Fantastic piece of history. I was also intrigued by the pictures of the rolling stock. Both inside and out, they reminded me of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, which I knew as a boy. Come to think of it, some of the bridge designs were similar as well.

Tony said...

Glad you liked the post. The similarity is not surprising: the LOR dates from almost the same period as the Métro. But I suppose they didn't have to dig up Liverpool to build it.
That's worth another post, I think....