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Paris Sewers Museum

Musée des égouts de Paris.

Sewers have been draining wastewater in Paris since the beginning of the 13th Century, when the city's streets were paved and drains were built on orders from Philippe Auguste, the king of France from 1180 to 1223. Covered sewers were introduced during the reign of Napoléon Bonaparte, and today's network of more than 2,100 km (1,312 miles) of sewer tunnels was begun in 1850.

The sandstone tunnels carry drainwater from the streets, sanitary sewers (now in separate pipes), mains for drinking water and the water used for streetcleaning, telecommunications cables, pneumatic tubes between post offices, and (or so one assumes) the occasional rat.

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Above: Exhibits in the Eugène Belgrand Gallery, named after the engineer who designed the present-day Parisian sewer network in 1850. From the floor of the gallery, you can look down into the waters of the Bosquet sand trap.

Until recent times, the Paris sewers also carried tourists: initially by carts that were suspended from the walkways along the tunnel walls, later by carriages drawn by a small locomotive, and--until the 1970s--in boats. (I toured an égout in 1966, when municipal workers used chains to haul the wooden boat through a sewer tunnel from the Madeleine to the Place de la Concorde.)

Today, the carts and boats are gone, having been replaced by an even better attraction: the Musée des égouts de Paris, or Paris Sewers Museum. This museum of the Mairie de Paris is located in the sewers beneath the Quai d'Orsay on the Left Bank, and it's a "must see" destination for any visitor who's interested in engineering, public works, or unusual tourist attractions--and for fans of Victor Hugo's novel, Les Misérables, and the musical that it inspired.

Updated September, 2013

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