Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fin de Siècle at its best - The Paris Métro

A Paris Métro Sign
©Fabio Venni / cc-by-sa Version 2.0
On July 19 1900, Paris, cultural center of the Belle Époche, opened its Métro. The Paris Métro stations with their Fin de Siècle charme and Art Nouveau design have become a timeless icon of the city.

Main achievements of the Exposition Universelle in 1900 were the introduction of escalators, talking films, the famous Eiffel Tower, and Ferris wheels. Rudolf Diesel exhibited his engine running on peanut oil and the largest refracting telescope, the 'Great Exposition Refractor' was presented. The fair lasted for seven months and attracted more than 50 million people. The available public transportation possibilities, consisting of horse-drawn trams and a large scale rail network, were rather insufficient and due to this coming masses of tourists, the city of Paris built a subway system, the Métro. This was quite sensational since only three other European cities (London, Budapest, Glasgow) had subways at by then.

The Métro of Paris is widely known for its entrances designed in the art nouveau style. The architect Hector Guimard is responsible for this special design, and he was inspired by the works of the French architect and theorist Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who made significant contributions on the construction of the Statue of Liberty. Even today, the original style of the Métro was maintained and even though many entrances were destroyed, the existing ones represent iconic symbols for the city of Paris.

In 1900 the Paris Métro consisted of 2 lines and was supposed to be extended up to 6 lines in the following years. Another private subway company called Société du Chemin de Fer Èlectrique was founded in 1910 and expanded the network widely. The two companies merged in 1930 and up to this day, the Métro was upgraded to more than 215km in length and 301 stations along the way. Another special feature of the Paris Métro are the rubber-tyred trains, introduced in the 1960's. This system was developed by Michelin and was used in Paris for the first time world wide. It benefits from the overall quietness on the trains as well as its better resistance against annoying concussions.

At yovisto you might watch Prof. John Merrimen talking about 'Paris at the Belle Époche' as part of his Yale lecture series 'Paris since 1871'.

Further Reading:

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