Going Underground for the Smelliest Tour in Paris - The Paris Sewer Museum

Katrina Maxwell covering her nose while visiting the sewers of Paris. I'll refrain from telling you what we observed floating in the water. And, yes, that is toilet paper hanging from the chains at the back of the photo.

I'm behind on my blog posts. Way behind. Usually that's not a problem if a subject isn't time sensitive, like an exhibition or a show. But it's definitely not good when the topic becomes more malodorous with each passing day. With the arrival of warm weather, there's a certain sense of urgency to write about the Paris sewer system because it's advisable to explore the sewers of Paris during the cooler months. Otherwise, what's a delicate way to say this? ... the aromas are overpoweringly pungent!

Knowing that she wanted to visit the Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum) when the air smelled as sweet as possible, Katrina Maxwell invited me to accompany her underground at the end of November. As we crossed the Pont de l'Alma, I asked Katrina, an American expat whom I had met while filming a French mini-series, to refresh my memory about her area of expertise. Was it chemistry? "No," she replied, "It's engineering. The title of my PhD thesis was "Surge Generation as an Aid to Water Conserving Building Drainage Design", which is why I've been wanting to see the sewers.

Does this remind you of Indiana Jones? It's a massive ball that flushes the waste out of the tunnels.

Since my reason for visiting the labyrinthine underground city stemmed from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, Katrina and I were somewhat of a mismatched pair. While she studied the panels devoted to the construction of the vast sewerage system with 2,100 km of tunnels and the storm water overflow discharge points, I concentrated on the information about the "split streets" with a central gutter for waste developed by Philippe Auguste at the beginning of the thirteenth century and Victor Hugo's relationship with the Sewer Inspecter Emmanuel Bruneseau, who was bold enough to penetrate the maze of sewer tunnels and map them. It turns out that Hugo's descriptions of the sewers were based on fact. "...Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form."

Baron Haussmann, who is famous for dramatically changing the cityscape of Paris, deserves more recognition for what he accomplished underground. The next time you flush the toilet, take a moment to ask yourself where all of the waste goes. Now multiply your daily output by 2,125,246, the number of people who reside in Paris, and you'll quickly appreciate the city's efficient system for managing waste and water runoff. Even though it's the most stinky tour in Paris and you'll see all kinds of yucky stuff floating in the waste water, the Paris Sewer Museum is well worth a visit. Just be sure to go at the right time of the year and take a scarf with you to cover your nose.

If you ever have the misfortune to drop keys, jewelry or something else down a sewer grate (it happens!), the Paris Sewer System has a 7/7, 24-hour emergency hotline. The number is 44 75 22 75.

Musée des Egouts (Paris Sewer Museum)
Pont de l'Alma, left bank,
Opposite 93 quai d'Orsay 75007 Paris

Metro Line 9 - station: Alma-Marceau (cross the bridge to get to the sewer's discrete entrance. The museum is underground so you won't see a large building.)

October 10 to April 30, Sat-Wed, 11 am - 4 pm.
May 1 to Sept 30, Sat-Wed, 11 am - 5 pm.
Closed on Thursdays and Fridays.

As an interesting side note to this post, Katrina Maxwell reinvented herself at the age of 50. She went from being a senior research fellow at one of the world's leading graduate business schools to an actress and singer. Click here to visit Katrina's FB page.

The museum in Belgrand Gallery. Paris Sewers.

Comments

  1. well you can cross that one off your bucket list. It's never been on mine.

    jxg

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  2. I've been to the sewer museum and found it really interesting, but bizzarely enough, I don't remember it being gross at all! There may have been toilet paper but I wasn't struck by anything much worse than that, and I have no memory of any particularly terrible smells. Every time I read or hear about it, I wonder if I missed out on the most obvious bit!

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