The Petite Ceinture railway circles the city of Paris and was used for transporting travelers from 1862 until it was abandoned in 1934. Here’s the story behind its construction and eventual decommissioning.
The railroad was created for military use and passenger lines were later integrated. Construction first began in 1852 under the Empire of Napoléon III and civic planner Baron Haussmann. Once Paris sprawled beyond the railroad’s limits in the 20th century, the 20-mile-long railway became obsolete.
Several sections are open to the public today. The restricted parts are still accessible and the catacombs of Paris are easily accessed through one of the tunnels on the railway.
Enthusiasts and urban explorers still adventure through the 150-year-old tracks and describe it as a quiet and natural garden space.
Parts are now overgrown and over 200 species of flora and fauna call the tracks home. Colorful flowers and greenery strike contrast against the bright, bold graffiti and street art. The original tracks remain mostly untouched, hidden just beyond the surrounding streets and neighborhoods.
One neighborhood became tired of the messy, dangerous portion of their railway, where prostitutes and drug dealers conducted business among the trash. A neighborhood association ended up cleaning their entire platform and planting flower and vegetable gardens, as well as chicken coops and beehives.
An emergency homeless shelter was even set up on another portion of the tracks in 2008. In southeast Paris, six old sleeper train cars were turned into long-term night shelters. 40% of the shelter’s residents were reintegrated into society in 2013 alone.
Parisians are concerned about the railway’s future because the packed city is looking for much-needed land for development. Hopefully, the efforts of citizens to repurpose the tracks for societal good will preserve this historic and whimsical part of Paris history.