Ever sat on the tube in Paris wondering how the stations came by their names?
Maybe not, but I have, so I thought I’d do a spot of research on some of the more interesting-sounding names.
Many Paris metro stations are named after wars and generals and I’m not very much interested in those ones, to be honest – although there are two or three army-related names on the list. Here goes:
Named after the chief engineer of the Metro, Fulgence Bienvenüe:
Fulgence was fondly known as “Le Père du Métro”
This station was originally called Avenue du Maine and was renamed in his honour in the presence of the great man himself. The station signs had been hurriedly painted over before the day of the ceremony but were missing the dieresis (the two dots in his surname). This meant that for a time the station was literally known as Station Welcome
It was later fused with Montparnasse to create Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, the fourth busiest station in Paris.
The Tuileries palace and gardens, after which the station was named, was itself named after the tile factories that stood on the site before Catherine de Médicis had the palace built in 1564. The palace itself was demolished in 1871.
Two stations joined together. Marcadet is named after the Rue Marcadet (from the Latin mercadus for market), and Poissoniers after Rue Poissoniers – an ancient route from the north down which fish sellers trod to sell their wares at Les Halles market.
Literally “little chateau” (although confusingly this particular castle was named the Grand Châtelet (“big little castle”) to differentiate it from one across the river) which was built by Louis the Gros in 1130 and extended to become one of Paris’ more sinister edifices.
It was a centre of administration, housed a court, a prison and a morgue which was useful to house the bodies of burned witches and tortured villains. Counterfeiters were boiled in the building…
Not a pleasant place. It was eventually demolished in 1810.
Named after a German industrialist, Philippe Oberkampf. He was the creator of the famous Toiles de Jouy in Jouy-en-Josas in north-central France in 1859.
This is him and the family in front of the Jouy factory:
Interestingly, his daughter Émilie was the pioneer of the nursery school in France, copying the British example.
6. Chateau d’Eau
Lovely name – not so lovely area in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.
The metro station was named after a Nubian Lions fountain designed by Pierre-Simon Girard which originally stood in the Place du Chateau d’Eau, which is now confusingly Place de la Republique. The fountain itself has been moved to Parc de la Villette. Here it is:
The station is named after the square, Place de la Nation, formerly known as Place du Trône, after a throne placed there to welcome Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse into the city in 1660.
During the revolution the square was cheekily named Place du Trône Renversé when the guillotine was situated there and officially renamed as Place de la Nation in honour of Bastille Day, 1880.
The station is named after the Rue la Glacière (iceworks street). The street name came about because the lakes and ponds in this area of the 13th arrondissement used to form large quantities of ice.
In the pre-fridge era iceworks were built to gather and keep the ice through the summer months.
Named after the Napoleonic victory at the Battle of the Pyramids (or Embabeh) in Egypt in 1798, rather than the big glass one at the Louvre.
10. LA DÉFENSE
Named after the statue La Défense de Paris by Louis Ernest Barrias, which was erected in 1883 to commemorate the soldiers who had defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.
That very same man is also reponsible for “Nature unveiling herself to science”, now housed at the Musée d’Orsay.
Originally named Obligado, after the street at the Trocadero where it sits. The street was named after the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado, an Anglo-French victory over the Argentine Republic in 1845. However, it was renamed in May 1948, when the Rue itself was re-named d’Argentine as a mark of respect to Argentina. That country had helped France out during WWII, providing grain and beef to keep the population fed.
There’s some lovely artwork down there – eight pictures, each representing a different bit of Argentina, and they were officially welcomed in June 2011 by the Argentinian ambassador and minister for tourism.
12. Porte Dauphine
Named after one of the old city gates of Paris, Porte Dauphine, it has one of the only two art nouveau aedicules designed by Hector Guimard that remain – the other one is at Abbesses. (Isn’t aedicule a great word? – never came across it before!) The original gate was part of the Thiers wall which surrounded Paris, built between 1841 and 1844.
This station is right at the Bois de Boulogne which incidentally has a film named after it – highly recommended – Les Dames de Bois de Boulogne, an elegant melodrama from Robert Bresson.
13. Barbès – Rochechouart
Oddly this station opened in 1903 as the Boulevard Barbès station but was renamed 8 days later as Barbès – Rochechouart.
Armand Barbès was a well-off Guadeloupan revolutionary and bane of the establishment who had a habit of getting himself thrown into prison. He ended his days in exile in the Netherlands. Baroness de Rochechouart de Montpipeau on the other hand, was the 43rd abbess of Montmartre (the Boulevard de Rochechouart, one of the stations named after her lies at the bottom of the hill of Montmartre.)
Here’s a blog post on the Barbès market held on Wednesdays and Saturday, and the other famous shopping opportunity at Boulevard de Rochechouart is the Tati store: spread over numerous different shops it sells copious amounts of cheap clothing and household goods. Unmissable with it’s pink and white gingham signs.
Named after the Rue de Télégraphe, which was itself inspired by the invention of Claude Chappe, the optical telegraph. This was basically a system where towers with two arms connected by a central arm would signal by semaphore to another tower. They were placed between 10 and 12 miles apart. The first successful relay was accomplished between Paris and Lille n 1792.
The towers were superseded by the electric telegraph, the last ones ceasing to function in 1852.
Incidentally, telegraph means “far writer” in ancient Greek.
Chappe, depressed, committed suicide by throwing himself into a well in 1805.
The world-renowned Gobelins tapestry factory was named after the Gobelin fabric dying family whose workplace on the outskirts of Paris Henry IV turned into a tapestry establishment.
16. Porte Dorée
The original Porte Dorée was a gate in the Thiers wall, one of the last defensive walls built to protect Parus. I presume it was golden (dorée) but haven’t been able to find out anything about the gate itself.
In the area sits a building called the Porte Dorée that housed the Colonial Exhibition of 1931, then became a little-visited museum of African and Oceanic arts (its artefacts are now in the excellent Quai Branly museum) and is now a museum of immigration history.
Place Blanche after which the metro is named, was named after the gypsum mines in the Montmartre area. Deposits of the mineral were left there with the flow of an ancient river wider than the Seine through the area.
Sacré-Coeur took a while to build because of instability problems caused by the old mines, and these underground tunnels were the site of the entombment of communards in 1871 when the authorities blasted the entrances shut. The white colour of the basilica was controversial because of the association of this incident with the white gypsum.
By the way, plaster of Paris is so-called because much of the time it was made from gypsum quarried in Paris.
18. Carrefour Pleyel
Ignaz Pleyel was an Austrian composer who founded the Pleyel de Cie piano factory in the area where a crossroads were named after it. They brought the first upright pianos to France and boasted musician customers such as Chopin who said the Pleyer piano was the “non plus ultra” (nothing above that). Liszt described the sound of Chopin’s Pleyel as being “the marriage of crystal and water” (thanks Forte Piano).
The Pleyer factory is still in existence and moved back to Paris’ 8th arrondissement after relocating for a while to the South of France.
19. Rue de la Pompe
Rue de la Pompe is unsurprisingly named after the Rue de la Pompe. Pompe means “pump” in French and the pump referred to in the street name is the one that was installed in 1730 to distribute water for use by residents of the Chateau de la Muette.
The old chateau was replaced by two newer versions, the most recent being built in 1921-22 and situated on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.
Interestingly, Brigitte Bardot spent a good part of her childhood in No 1 Rue de la Pompe.
20. Les Lilas – Serge Gainsbourg
No, this one doesn’t exist yet, but if Lilas mayor Daniel Guiraud gets his way, it will. Extra stations are being built in the Lilas suburban district, and as well as the Gainsbourg name, Guiraud would like a bronze statue of the controversial singer to be erected outside the new station.
The connection with Lilas is a song recorded by cabbage-head man (one of his nicknames), called the “Poinçonneur des Lilas” (ticket-puncher) who is so depressed by his job on the metro that he wants to kill himself. So it won’t exactly be a celebration of the metro itself.
21. Rue des boulets
The picture above is how Janol Apin sees Rue Des Boulets metro station in his imagination (he’s produced a fantastic series of photos on 17 metro scenarios).
However, here’s the real story according to a 1825 book “The History of Paris”
“In the sixteenth century there was near this spot a field for practising archery and the art of slinging. The boulets (bullets) in this exercise gave its name to the street”.
22. rue de rome
Rue de Rome is one of several Parisian streets named after European capital cities. Others include Madrid, Naples, Constantinople, Milan, London, St Petersburg and Amsterdam.
Interestingly, around half of the shops on the Rue de Rome are violin shops.
23. alexandre dumas
Alexandre Dumas is of course the author of the adventure novels The Count of Monte Cristo and the Three Muskateers (both originally published as serials). Interestingly, Dumas’ assistant August Maquet is said to have outlined the plot for The Count of Monte Cristo and contributed extensively to the Three Muskateers and its sequels.
English playwright Watts Phillips said of the author:
“[he was] the most generous, large-hearted being in the world. He also was the most delightfully amusing and egotistical creature on the face of the earth. His tongue was like a windmill — once set in motion, you never knew when he would stop, especially if the theme was himself.”
He was an aristocrat and grand-son of a duke and a black slave woman so had to put up with a degree of racism: his novel Georges deals with the subject of colonialism and race.
He’s also said to have had around 40 affairs in his lifetime, yet somehow only four illegitimate children.
24. Champs de Mars
The Champs de Mars is the 60 acre park in which the Eiffel Tower sits (that’s the tall building that looks a bit like the Blackpool Tower:
The Champs de Mars is named after the Campus Martius, the ancient Roman district of the city of Rome dedicated to Mars (God of War). The name fits with the purpose it was put to in the 18th century, as the training grounds for the military personnel of the Ecole Militaire that sits at the end of it.
It witnessed the very first Bastille Day celebrations held a year after the fall of Bastille prison (it was then known as Federation Day) in 1790 and there was a massacre on it the year after that.
By the way, don’t go looking for this station. It isn’t in service any more – it’s a veritable ghost station.
Named after the world-famous plane.
Well, not really, but the word, meaning harmony or agreement between groups relates to both the plane and to the Place de la Concorde.
In the case of the supersonic jet it acknowledged the working together of the countries involved in the production of it; and the renaming of the Place de la Révolution to Place de la Concorde was a gesture of reconciliation after the revolution.
I’m hoping you found those facts as fascinating as I did. Sign up for my newsletter if you fancy reading more Quirky Travel tidbits as they hit the press.