One of the hallmarks of a great civilization is the ability to undertake massive waterworks projects so that its citizens don’t die a tragic, horrible and swift death from cholera or typhus. The Romans had their massive aqueducts, the Americans their Chicago River Project and the Parisians their sewers.
Although a rudimentary underground sewer system was constructed in the 14th century, it wasn’t until the Haussmannization of Paris in the late 19th century that a modern(ish) system with separate streams for drinking water, gray water and waste was created. It was at this time that the sewers of Paris captured the imagination of writers. Les Misérable, The Phantom of the Opera, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (seriously, they go to Paris in an episode)…some of the finest stories ever told have been set in the bowels of Paris.
It also captured the imagination of tourists as well. Paris was eager to show off its renovation both above and below ground, and has offered sewer tours since 1867. Visitors ranging from the Czar of Russia to, well, us have been treated to the sights, sounds and smells of the sewer ever since.
…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…
—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
The museum is mostly a walking tour on grates over the sewers. Displays describe the history of the sewers, from its humble and ineffective beginnings to the modern improvements that are taking place today. Highlights include a huge ball used to clean clogged tunnels (ewww) and a dredging boat (eugh).
You can visit the Paris Sewer Museum Saturday to Wednesday from 11 am to 4 pm October through April, and until 5pm the rest of the year. Cost is €4.30. To get there, use the Alma-Marceau metro station or Pont de l’Alma RER station. Allow about an hour for your visit.Wear closed-toe shoes as you are going to the sewers, however, it does not smell that bad.
A museum about sewers? You may not think this sounds cool…oh, who am I kidding, OF COURSE this sounds cool! And it is.