“…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.” (Les Misérables, Jean Valjean; Book II, ch.1)
If you’ve ever wanted to visit the bowels of Paris in a day, you can. Just a short walk from the Eiffel Tower lies the Musée des égouts de Paris, meaning Paris Sewer Museum.
Fortunately for your nose, the museum is away from the “slime” and pungent smell of sewage since it represents one section of the sewer systems. At ground level, enter the museum through the ticket office, which is located by Quai d’Orsay at the Pont de l’Alma. For more information on how to reach the museum on foot, via the metro area or by bus, check out the Europe for Visitors website.
As a fan of the fiction novel, Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, which inspired the beloved musical as well as the Golden Globe-winning 2012 major motion picture, you can view the sewers where the story’s characters, Jean Valjean, Javert and Thénardier, roamed.
The France in the Age of Les Miserables website explains that, “Victor Hugo saw the sewers of Paris as the ‘conscience of the city’; a place where there were no secrets, where class distinctions became insignificant and society could be observed in a clear light. “
Regardless of whether you’ve enjoyed Les Misérables or not, Paris’ sewers have a rich heritage and remain an impressive feat of engineering. Some sections hail back to the 1200s, when the inefficient system of the time aided in spreading the Bubonic Plague. Through the reign of many rulers, including Napoleon Bonaparte, the sewer system modernized and expanded from hundreds of miles to more than 1,300 miles! Tours of the sewers began in the mid-1800s. During the Industrial Revolution, the sewer tours were so popular (and further popularized by Hugo’s novel) that tourists could even ride through sections of the sewers in carts and carriages. Today, a section of the sewers has evolved into a museum.
These days, you’ll be touring the museum on foot on raised walkways above the sewers. Explore by yourself with the provided booklet. During the summer, foreign language tours are available. Free guided tours are not always offered.
Give yourself at least 60 minutes for your museum visit. You can also browse the gift shop. Yes, restrooms are available onsite!
According to the Paris Museum Pass website, the museum is always closed on Thursdays and Fridays. Open hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30. From Oct. 1 to April 30, visit between 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Usually, the museum is also closed on Christmas Day and on Jan. 1, and is also closed for maintenance during a couple of weeks in January.
EuropeforVisitors.com suggests that ticket prices are currently around €4,30 for adults, or €3,50 for children from ages 6 to 16, with children under 5 admitted in for free. Get free admission with the Paris Museum Pass.
Experience the romance of days gone by while exploring the underbelly of a aged city with many, many tales (fiction and not) to still tell.
France in the Age of Les Misérables, created by Mount Holyoke College students of History 255
Musée des égouts de Paris, France
Museumchick.com, ” The Perfect Date Place in Paris…For a Rat- The Sewer Museum”