Journey through Paris’s sewers

What better place to get to know a city than deep within its bowels?

Unlike most cities, Paris’s sewers have a storied history. In the mid-nineteenth century, Baron Haussmann was charged by Napoleon III with leading a foundational redesign of the city. Paris’s wide boulevards, radiating symmetrically from giant roundabouts, its parks and public works were the product of this “Haussmannisation” — the top-down imposition of European rationality on its most famous city. 

Haussmannisation didn’t go without its critics, least those radicals who noted that the Baron’s wide roads were particularly useful at allowing the army to suppress protests, but one good thing it did achieve was a remarkable sewer system which runs for 1,313 miles underneath Paris’s roads, creating a subterranean reflection of the city. The sewers were as wide and impressive and the roads above even inspiring minds like Victor Hugo’s – “Paris has another Paris under herself”, he writes in Les Miserables in reference to the sewers, which form part of the narrative.

Today’s Paris Sewer Museum is slightly more hygienic than when people would explore the sewers in Hugo’s time – visitors used be guided by boat along the wretched water. Today it’s a clean and instructive place, showing you how the city’s drinking water system has evolved, the mammoth balls of concrete used to clean the sewers and some stuffed rats. It’s a really fascinating way to see the city.

Le Musée des Egouts de Paris is open every day except Thursday and Friday from 11.00 to 17.00. Tickets cost €4.40 and is free for the unemployed. To get there from Generator Paris, take the No. 7 Metro from Louis Blanc to Chaussé d’Antin – La Fayette and then the No. 9 to Alma – Marceau.