This post was contributed by Sathya Migdal.
If you think of Paris, you’ll probably think of the metro, that glamorous mode of transportation flooding the feed of your favourite Parisian influencers. And despite its intense smell and strange etiquette, it is essential when going to the Louvre, or to that sketchy but cheap barbershop you choose to go to because who’s actually gonna pay 40€ to get a haircut you’ll have no say in, right?
However, before the Paris metro, there was “La Petite Ceinture” or little belt. Its tracks encircle what was the 19th century Paris, and have been shut down since the mid-’80s. Having been built in between the city’s forts it has been kept isolated, allowing nature, graffiti artists, drunk students and other creatures to slowly reclaim the space making it a beautiful and extremely interesting green inner-city railway.
This is one of those “known” secrets to Paris I had been dying to experience. Given that the rails mostly runs within an open space, I would keep walking past it, but the question always remained on how to get down. Now there are a few areas open to the public (15th, 17th and 19th Arr.), but my interest, of course, was always getting down to the “untouched” areas.
Ever since my first year in Paris, I came across this path countless times given that my best friend used to live right next to it. Now I’m not one to give into adventures, but this one intrigued me for a long time. However, just like with the “Catacombes”, Parisians like to pretend like they don’t know there’s a better yet clandestine way to enjoy these sites. Which is why asking around before trying to get down wasn’t an option for me.
Figuring out whether there was a way to go down and if I was courageous enough to do so took time. Then finally in my third year, I decided to go explore with one of my roommates. Turns out, getting down was easier than I thought. Which I guess is what explains how little interest the French showed in this entrance.
It just wasn’t complicated enough for them.
Anyways, down in the 14th Arrondissement, between the many bridges in Porte d’Orleans and Alesia, we found a little DIY door from which we were able to go down. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was an easy drop, and I was definitely not wearing the right shoes for it, but we made it down.
Once you get in, there is a pretty cool atmosphere being down there. You bump into all sorts of people: photographers, models, musicians, tag artists, tourists… that are all really friendly and at ease with each other. I guess knowing that we’re all in on this “secret” makes you part of this really interesting group of people, which I had never came across in Paris.
As we walked through the different parts of the railway, people would say “Hi” to us as they continued their activities. If you’re an adventure junky (like my roommate) you can climb up the green walls discovering every inch of the spot, scream in every dark tunnel to see if baths or any creature would respond, or simply go wild and become a kid again. However, if you’re just a normal mortal explorer like myself, this is the perfect opportunity to overcome those little fears of nature you might have. In my case, I ended up discovering the many tunnels I just mentioned. Really dark tunnels in fact, forcing me to swallow my fear of darkness and pull through if it meant I wanted to see the beauty waiting for me on the other side.
Side note: Talking from experience, if you’re afraid of the dark and you know you’ll be going through tunnels, make sure to take off your sunglasses before doing so.
As I said, there’s a bit of a community that is built the more people bump into each other. And if you come back, you’ll keep finding new people. The second time I went there I decided to do a photo shoot with one of my best friends. This time around, we weren’t the only ones shooting. In fact, as we dived into the depths of the railway a group of students dressed in cool vintage outfits and drinking some 1664 stopped their photoshoot at the sight of us. We talked briefly and they let us watch what they were doing, giving us a few ideas for our shoot. They were lively and were never bothered by our exchange. Although we were all essentially there to do our own thing, chatting with others or just hanging out didn’t feel awkward at all.
However, now that I think about it, exiting this place tends to always be one hell of a ride. After my first time exploring the sight, my roommate ended up with a big bump on her head and a really interesting ride back on the metro. Apparently, a wining 21-year-old with an annoying friend who wouldn’t stop taking photos of her is not a great fit for the Parisian metro.
So, if you decide to part take into this secret, you should be warned. Unless you want to end up with a big bump on your forehead like my roommate did.
Nonetheless, my advice to anyone reading this still remains that, if you’re ever in Paris or you live here, regardless of whether you’re an artist, a student, a professor or have any other interests, La Petite Ceinture is a sight you need to try out!
Meet Sathya: A young Mexican Psych student living in Paris. Portrait photographer showcasing multiculturalism through a lens. Keep up with her on IG.