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Photo: © Simon Law

If you’ve ever spent much time in Paris, you know that the Paris Métro is enormous: 16 lines, 381 stops in 297 stations (of which 62 provide correspondence between lines), and 132 miles of routes. It’s not as large as New York’s subway system, of course, which has 24 lines, 468 stops in 421 stations, and 209 miles of routes, but it is much bigger than the Metro system of my hometown of Washington, DC: the DC Metro has 5 lines, 118 stops in 86 stations, and 106 miles of routes.

© RATP — The Paris Métro is enormous.

Paris’s Métro is one of the densest subway systems in the world, with 245 of its stations located within the 34 square miles of the city of Paris itself. Since the Métro was designed at the end of the nineteenth century to comprehensively serve the city, the stations are very close together: only 548 meters apart on average (about a third of a mile or 600 yards), ranging down to 424 meters (a quarter of a mile or 465 yards) on line 4 and up to one kilometer (about six tenths of a mile or 1,100 yards) on the newest line 14. With all these Métro stations and their maze-like transfer tunnels, it’s no wonder that Paris has been described as a véritable gruyère. 

With 4.5 million passengers a day (1.479 billion a year), the Paris Métro is also the second busiest subway system in Europe (after Moscow). It also boasts the busiest underground station in the world: Châtelet-Les Halles, which is serviced by 5 Métro lines and 3 RER commuter rail lines.

Being a bit of a history nerd—if not exactly a city planning or public transportation geek like some of my friends—I sometimes see the name of one of Paris’s 297 Métro stations, and I ask myself: Who was Étienne Marcel, anyway? What exactly happened on the Fourth of September? Why’s that station called Le Peletier (“The Furrier”)? So I thought, why not give the backstory of some of these stations, like I do with French pasties? Not a bad idea, huh?

So … here’s the first: Châtelet-Les Halles, of course!

P.S.—You can also find some funny observations from the Paris Métro that have appeared in my Facebook statuses here. I also have a slideshow of some of the poignant, the amusing, and the absurd moments I’ve captured with my camera here.

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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