The Petite Ceinture is a 17 mile railway circumscribing central Paris. It was built in 1852 to connect the Gares of Paris, became one of the world's first suburban transit systems, and fell into disuse during the 1930's as the Paris Metro succeeded it in efficiency. Today it is abandoned and little known, preserved by indecision over its future. It is a retreat from the city, and a home for underground culture. In places raised up, depressed or underground, it is an exceptional place to look back upon the city of Paris.
This is a rough journal of what I've found on the P.C. as well as during walks around Paris.

jeudi 29 mai 2008

First glimpses of the Ceinture! - Walking form Porte de Clignancourt (N) to Porte de la Villette (NE)

The day was typically overcast, and I walked north from my apartment in Chateau Rouge along Rue Barbes to Porte Clignancourt (18me Arrondisement). I had found the Petite Ceinture! Porte de Clignancourt is especially busy - one of the main intersections between a major N-S Parisian Rue (Barbes) and the Peripherique. The P.C. runs in a trench at this point, and roads are laid over it with broad bridges. I had to look for a while before I found it.

(green = walking route, red= P.C. route)

I couldn't gain access (high green fences are the trademark P.C. obstacle), and was grateful for it - it felt exposed with all the looming apartment and office blocks around it, and I was nervous about trespassing, especially without speaking any French. Fortunately there's a major road that runs parallel to the P.C. - Blvd. Ney, which turns into Blvd. MacDonald heading east (I learned later that these Blvd.s are named after Napoleon I's generals). I followed the sidewalk and took photos as I went. The Blvd. Ney-MacDonald dips, and the P.C. runs at grade for at least 1.5km. It was easy to see onto the track, and it was along this stretch that I noticed the tunnel that clearly connected the P.C. to Gare du Nord (there was a maintenance train sitting in it).

Around Rue de la Chapelle the P.C. forks away from the Boulevard, and the standard 6-10 floor office/apartment blocks sit between the Blvd. and track. I had lost the track. At Rue D'Aubervilliers I found the track again - running under the large bridge bridge connecting inner and outer Paris. By this point, several other train tracks had merged with the Petite Ceinture - it was becoming a railyard, possibly a shunting yard. The view from the bridge was impressive - derelict railway furniture against a backdrop of relentless apartment towers that reminded me of the Hot Fuss album cover. Without hopping down onto the track, I could no longer follow it. Another day.

I turned back into Central Paris along Rue d'Aubervilliers and tried to get lost in the 19me. I found a great bookshop, and spent some time trying to find a book on the Petite Ceinture with the patient book keeper - Armand. Success! It's called Petite Ceinture - a collection of short stories by 27 authors about their experience with the railroad. Unfortunately it's in French. I was surprised that there's a literary circle that has evolved from the P.C.

I spent some more time wondering, and eventually headed into the center of Paris, in search of the Ecole de Beaux Arts. My guide book described it as the first Parisian example of correctly applied classic orders - a notable facade. It was the only building along that stretch of the Seine covered in scaffolding. And it was closed. But there was an art festival taking place behind it, and I stayed until it got dark - in spite of the fact my North Face sweater and tatty jeans were way out of place amongst the dapper Parisians - this is the Rive Gauche today!

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