You may think there’s nothing better to do on a bank holiday Monday than going to the Sewers of Paris, and you’d be wrong! It was quite an experience to say the least, and I think I may need to wash myself, and my clothes a few more times to feel clean again.
The warning signs were there as soon as we entered:
It also isn’t the most photogenic location in Paris, but I quite liked the industrial feel of the place. One of the first things you notice is the smell. There is a definite odour, but once I you get a few metres in, you start to become a little bit accustomed. Whether that’s a positive or negative remains to be seen?
Probably somewhere around halfway through, my marketing hat made a reappearance after an 8-month-or-so hiatus, and got me thinking. It really adds to the experiential quality of the museum to have the intense smells, and the sounds and sight of moving water. As you walk through, there are exposed water pipes (which did drip onto me at many points throughout the trip…) which really go in heavy on the senses. All these factors working together makes it quite a standout visit. Sorry if I’m boring anyone with my obsessive marketing student moment, but it’s hard to shake off after studying it for three years.
I also managed to spot some real-life sewer rats a few metres away nesting in a blocked-off side tunnel, and I’m still not sure how to feel about it! They did add to the authenticity of the place, but at the same time… rats. No thank you. It makes you think that if the rats were real, were the brown-tinted streams of ‘water’ really full of the waste products of the Paris populace?
I have to admit, I didn’t take an awful lot of information in, but one thing I did learn was that in the Middle Ages, all the drinking water in Paris came from the Seine. Waste water was then poured into fields and streets, which then eventually filtered back through the mud and dirty streets into the Seine. Nice.
The sewers have also featured in popular culture over the years, most notably in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. He described the sewers, adding that ‘Paris has another Paris under herself’, alluding to the vast network of tunnels. Finally, as much as I’ve complained about the smell and drippy pipes, it really is quite an interesting look into the development of Paris and public health throughout the years. It also doesn’t cost an arm-and-a-leg to get in.
To find out more about the museum, you can pop over to the website by clicking here.