Ancient history

Metropolitan or necropolitan?

Last updated:2022-07-25

In the 1880s, supporters and opponents of the future Paris underground network clashed. Discussions were lively in the audience. Everyone came up with peremptory arguments, but the detractors of the metro fought back with particular vehemence.

Their reasoning was sometimes unexpected:
Deep works, they claimed, will cause terrible damage. The houses will collapse.

This will be nothing compared to the dangers of epidemics that will threaten the city, other pessimists proclaimed. The scourings of the ground will bring to the surface of Paris evil exhalations, terrible miasmas, fetid heritage of times past. The air will become unbreathable.

Other complications are to be feared, explained some prophets. If we multiply the means of transport between the center and the periphery, the city will be depopulated, the old Parisians will flee to the suburbs. Today there are more than 50,000 empty homes in the various arrondissements of Paris. What will it be like in the middle of the 20th century?

As for the various risks awaiting users of the metro, we could not count them. First, the underground would be real cesspools. A journalist of the time gives the picture of one of the future stations:Imagine, after descending fifteen meters by a slippery staircase, between damp and dirty walls, arriving on a wet sidewalk between a wall and pillars of which there is no you shouldn't approach, receiving the seeps of water from the vault, not being able to sit on the wet benches despite the maintenance, entering the dripping wagons... You shouldn't be sweaty, because death would await you at the station you would have chosen as the goal of your race!

Danger of pneumonia, fear of breaking your neck slipping on the steps... And what about the fear that electricity, this disturbing force, can cause with this terrible rail installed on the track! Won't subway users be killed by electrocution?
Sorrowful spirits were backing up these pessimistic views:

The metropolitan will become the necropolitan.
In the Chamber, a deputy wrote:

The metro is anti-national, anti-municipal, anti-patriotic! It is detrimental to the glory of Paris!

People with common sense, however, imagined very well the services that this decried metro could render to Parisians and inhabitants of the suburbs. Some economists even saw in its construction a remedy for the difficulties of life:The metro, by bringing distances closer together, will equalize the conditions of competition; it will quickly produce a general lowering of rents... Isn't it also obvious, they said, that thanks to public transport
underground all the problems of traffic congestion streets would definitely be settled in the capital?
At the end of the century, however, engineers were still debating bitterly on the question of whether an aerial railway would not be more practical than an underground route . Projects and counter-projects clashed.
The first idea of ​​an underground line dated back to the beginning of the Second Empire. The engineer Eugène Flachat (constructor of the famous Paris-Saint-Germain railway) had already proposed the construction of a 2,233 meter tunnel, going from a belt railway station to the Place de la Grève, place of hiring workers.

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