Paris’ Metro Diplomacy

There’s so much to see in Paris. There’s literally a landmark or museum every other street. So it’s not surprising that even our metro entrances would be historical monuments… Paris’ metropolitain is one of the oldest in the world, opening at the beginning of the 20th century for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. The metro was, at the time, a very novel mode of transportation. Only London had one…  Since Parisiens are all about style, they thought having attractive entrances would be a great way to encourage them to get on board (literally). So they hired Hector Guimard, a young architect, and between 1900 and 1913, some 141 Guimard metropolitain entrances were installed throughout the city. Today, only 86 are still standing, two of them only a few blocks from where I grew up, at Bastille and Breguet Sabin. A few more can be spotted around the world from Moscow to Mexico City, and where I currently live, in Washington, D.C.

The ornate green cast iron entryways Guimard designed became so iconic over the years that they turned into one of the best ambassadors of Paris around the world. Like China’s pandas, except, well, less furry and cuddly, the Guimard metros have been used as diplomatic gifts by the RATP*


Number 1 and number 2 are located in Washington, D.C.’s sculpture garden and New York City’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden at the MoMa museum respectively. Unlike the other 3, they are not used to mark the entrance of an actual metro, but are pieces of art in a museum. Both are originals (the one at MoMa used to stand at the Raspail metro station) that have been restored. That’s more than the next two can say… actually, out of all of the Guimard entrances that have been given to other cities, the only functioning original one outside of Paris is number 5 at the Square-Victoria station in Montreal. Meanwhile, replicas from original molds have been given to the Lisbon metro (picoas station), the Mexico City metro (Bellas Artes station – number 3 above), the Moscow Metro (the Kievskaya station, which is actually one of the prettiest metro station in the world with chandeliers and artwork is inspired from Ukrainian life and folk motifs) and Chicago’s Metra (number 4 above is located on Van Buren Street.) 

 

These bouches de metro** are an important part of Paris’ architectural heritage. I know, they’re not quite as cute as panda bears, but I think they still make great ambassadors for Paris abroad!

 
*RATP is the Parisian transit authority… because it’s on strike so often the joke is that RATP stands for Rentre Avec Tes Pieds or “go home with your feet.” But in reality it stands for Regie Autonome des Transports Parisien or Autonomous Operator of Parisian Transports

** bouche = mouth, we call our metro entrances mouths of the metro… poetic I guess.

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