In spite of the (kind of ridiculous to me, especially since I lived in China most of my life) pollution warning that the Parisian government had implemented, which meant free public transportation, it was beautiful day, so I did what a logical human being would do: I decided to visit Le Musée des Égouts de Paris (The Sewers Museum of Paris).
According to a sign that I read in the museum, it’s one of the only sewers in the world in which the whole sewer can be accessed. The little kiosk in the last picture is the entrance!
3.6 euros later, I was walking down into the sewers!
Surprisingly, it didn’t smell all that bad – at least, not that bad for a sewer – they probably made it less smelly for the tourists who decided to go.
There wasn’t actually that much to see in the sewer (it’s a sewer, what do you expect), but there was quite a lot of information posted on the walls. In the first hall there was a series of posters (and a diorama) explaining the water cycle in Paris, how water is filtered before it goes back into the Seine river and the fact that the tap water has been extensively filtered and thus drinkable! The more you know…
Then I moved on to the next section, which actually stank quite a lot. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the one time in elementary school when, for some reason, our teachers decided that it would be a great idea for us to visit a water treatment plant (that time it was so bad that even with an air filter mask, all of us, teacher included, were gagging), but I could definitely smell something pretty unpleasant. The water wasn’t really flowing, and above it the museum displayed two boat-like contraptions: le wagon-vanne (not sure how to translate this directly, but apparently in English it’s called a “sluice-gate car”), and le wagon bi-boule, which both roll along the sewers with one or several sewer inspectors on top to unstick any mud (boue) or other dirty stuff from the bottom of the sewer.
The next section smelled a lot better because the water underneath it was flowing steadily, thank goodness, and it was a history lesson chronicling the Parisian sewer system from the Gallo-Roman Period up through to modern day.
Warning: mini-history lesson below.
Gallo-Roman Period – during this time period, the population of Paris was only about 6000 people. They got water from the river and wells, lived on the left bank (the right bank was a marsh), and any waste water got naturally filtered by the river/soil around the river. The sewer system didn’t really exist
The Middle Ages – the population increased, and therefore they needed new ways to get rid of waste waters. They constructed open sewers and gutters that smelled terrible (can you imagine?), and also brought diseases to people that lived nearby. Although the Seine was still able to purify the water naturally, action had to be taken. The first closed sewer was built around 1370 by Hugues Aubriot on rue Montmartre. It was 300m long and was designed to protect the inhabitants from pestilence.
Renaissance – the population was at 500,000 people, and a proper sewage system was necessary. A hydraulic pump was installed near Notre-Dame/St. Michel, pumping 1500 cubic meters of water/day to public fountains. This wasn’t enough, so there were “water-carriers” (about 20,000 of them by the 18th century) who delivered water to houses for money. Arched sewers also were being used, but the overall ecological situation was bad – the Seine was getting dirtier, smells were terrible, and disease was rampant. Several buildings had to be abandoned.
Napoleonic Empire – The population was up to ____ people at this point, and sewage was a real problem. Napoleon 1ere, in spite of his contributions of water supplies and the sewer system, was unable to restore ecological balance. There was a cholera epidemic in 1832 and people began to realize that they needed a proper water filtration and drainage system. In the 1850s, Napoleon III ordered the construction of new aqueducts and sewage systems. So by the late 19th century, Paris already had one water supply system and one sewage system.
___ history lesson over___
And that was pretty much the end of the tour! Not the most fabulous nor exciting visit ever, but it was educational, and I’d never seriously considered the importance of a proper sewage system and how disgusting it must have been to walk on the streets in the olden times. We have air pollution now, they had pestilence.
After that, I decided to go for a walk! The weather was too nice not too, and after breathing in stale, sewer air, I needed something fresh! I crossed le pont de l’Alma and began walking up rue George V towards l’Arc de triomphe and Champs Élysées
I wandered around Champs-Élysées for a while, doing some window shopping but really just enjoying the day, then I hopped onto a bus and went to Beaugrenelle, a mall in the 15th arrondissement.
Half of the mall was closed, but the other half was open. I was hungry so I decided to try Chipotle for the first time! It was a bit pricier than I had expected, but I was famished and it looked (and was) delicious. I finished the whole thing (all 1200 calories of it) in about 10 minutes.
The sewers didn’t do much to my stomach, apparently. I walked around a bit more around the mall, and then it was back home for me!