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The Sewers of Paris:
A Brief History

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...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 Miserables, Jean Valjean; Book II, ch.1)

10.1 the Paris Sewers

Early/ Pre-Revolutionary History:

Paris's first sewer system was built in the 1200's: it consisted of open troughs that ran down the center of each cobblestone road. It was not very effective and contributed to the spread of diseases such as the Black Death.

The first underground sewer was built in 1370 beneath the Rue Montmartre, and drained into a tributary of the Seine River. The Sewers were expanded slowly throughout the next 400 years. However due to a lack of coverage beneath the city and widespread disrepair the sewers remained a problem for the city.

Sewers During the Revolution:

10.2 The sewers in 1810 as shown below the rue Saint Denis

It was during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte that the sewers of Paris were finally brought up to speed. In 1805 a man called Bruneseau was commissioned to undertake the building of 182 new miles of sewer:

The complete visitation of the subterranean sewer system of Paris occupied seven years, from 1805 to 1812. While yet he was performing it, Bruneseau laid out, directed and brought to an end some considerable works; in 1808 he lowered the floor of the Ponceau, and creating new lines everywhere, he extended the sewer... At the same time he disinfected and purified the whole network. (Les Miserables, Jean Valjean; Book II, Ch. 4)


Hugo's Sewers:

During the time of Victor Hugo, in 1850 Baron Haussmann engineered separate underground passages for drinking water and sewage using iron piping and digging techniques made possible by the Industrial Revolution, and in 1878 the system was 360 miles long.

Besides the sanitary function of the sewers, in Paris they were also a source of tourism. Starting in the mid 1800's, tours were given of sections of the sewer, and were very popular during the time of Victor Hugo.

The grand sewers in 1859 below the Rue Royal

Paris's Sewers Today:

Today, the Sewers extend for 1,300 miles, and tours are just as popular as ever There is even a Sewer Museum in Paris!

Related Links

Hugo's "Intestine of Leviathan"

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