Unusual Paris Museums and Galleries: Musée des Egouts – the Paris Sewers Museum:
For anyone looking for an off-the-beaten track experience in Paris, you couldn’t get more off-beat than a visit underground to the Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum). Yes, there really is a Museum of the Sewers in Paris where more than 2,400 kilometres of sewer tunnels honeycomb this subterranean world.
Until Napoléon 1 introduced the first vaulted sewer network, sewage waste in Paris was not managed in the most hygienic way. In fact up till the Middle Ages, wastewater that was poured onto unpaved streets and fields would filter its way back into the Seine from which people got their drinking water. Even in 1802 there had been an infamous backup resulting in sewage waste reaching a statue of Louis XIV before stopping just short of the House of Racine, enabling wits to remark that the sewers respected the poet more than the king. But the man who literally saved Paris from drowning in its own filth was Eugène Belgrand – the engineer who was commissioned by Baron Haussmann to design the present-day Paris sewer and water supply networks.
What the Sewer Tour Covers
Helen was initially a little unsure as to whether she wanted to tour the sewer system, but having done the tour, she can confirm that there aren’t any nasty surprises down there. The Paris sewer network houses more than just wastewater pipes. In addition to wastewater, drinking and non-drinking water mains are housed in the tunnels, as are telecommunication cables, pneumatic tubes, etc.
Today’s sewer tour covers approximately 500 metres of the 2,400 kms of tunnels that have been turned into a museum dedicated to the murky depths of Paris.
- In the Bruneseau Gallery, you can learn about Bruneseau, the city’s municipal works inspector who was commissioned by Napoleon to survey the sewer network, which dates back to 1370 when the first underground system was built. Bruneseau spent seven years mapping and charting the sewer system for the first time. This man’s a real hero and what dedication! As you can imagine the sewers weren’t a pretty sight (or smell) during those early days.
- In the Belgrand Gallery, you can learn all about the 19th century engineer put in charge of the sewers in 1854 and who designed and built the current sewer network.
The underground galleries present the water management cycles from the Gallo-Roman period to the Middle Ages, from the Renaissance to the French Revolution and then modern and contemporary Paris. It also describes the job of the Paris sewer workers. The exhibits are well presented, and the history of the sewer’s construction are detailed via story boards written in French and English. However, to read these signs, you have to stand on a metal grating over an active sewer channel; this arrangement is not quite conducive to dawdling.
The exhibits in the Sewer Museum also show models and machinery used in the past and currently, techniques employed to dredge the sand and solid waste from the channels and the computerized monitoring system. There is also an audio-visual show and exhibition room on the techniques of the future! And toilets are conveniently provided at the end so you can try out the system for yourself…
High Drama in the Paris Sewers
Besides the Paris Sewer system’s normal uses, it has also proved useful to Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a couple of episodes of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other fictional stories. In WWII the French Resistance also used the system and in the gallery are displays of some weapons that were found there.
How to Get There
The Musée des Égouts is conveniently located underground near the Quai d’Orsay. The entrance is near the Pont de l’Alma on the left bank. All that’s visible from the street is the little white and blue ticket kiosk, situated next to a hole in the ground (41 steps down).
Musée des Egouts de Paris
Pont de l’Alma (Place de la Resistance); facing 93 Quai d’Orsay
Tel: 01 53 68 27 81
Website: Musée des Egouts de Paris (in French)
Next page : Musée FragonardWhat questions does this raise for you?