The Paris Metro
In “The Prisoner”, page 199, Charlus brags about Morel’s attractiveness to women: ‘The most famous whores can’t keep their eyes off him. He stands out everywhere,... even in the metro.’ I was surprised to hear that the metro existed then. And I have to admit, I wondered if this was another example of Proust taking liberties with time. But the Paris metro indeed opened in 1900.
Evidence of plans to build the métropolitain (or the Nécropolitain, as it was dubbed by one wit) existed as early as 1845. The first line opened without ceremony on 19 July 1900, during the World Fair (Exposition Universelle). The system expanded quickly until the First World War and the core was complete by the 1920s. Extensions into suburbs (together with Line 11) were built in the 1930s. Line 1, as it is still called, ran from Porte de Vincennes to Porte Maillot; it has since been extended — from Château de Vincennes to La Défense. While the engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe was in charge of construction, architect Hector Guimard is credited for the charming and elaborately sculpted Art Nouveau entrances. Following the construction of the Eiffel Tower by eleven years, this elegant transportation system stole the show, and remains to this day a model of efficient public transportation.
Wooden Métro cars placed
in service July, 1900
© Guillaume Potier