This Hidden Parisian Gem Is 20 Miles Long, and Mostly Off-Limits

The Photo Blog
Sept. 4 2014 12:39 PM

This Hidden Parisian Gem Is 20 Miles Long, and Mostly Off-Limits

parispromo
Pierre_Folk_07
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

La Petite Ceinture (known as the Little Belt in English) is a relic of a bygone era. Built in the 1850s and ’60s, it runs nearly 20 miles around the City of Light along the Boulevards des Maréchaux. It carried passengers until 1934, when automobiles and the underground metro system supplanted it as preferred modes of transport.

Since then, the tracks have had a life of their own. Left largely untended, biodiversity thrived, and, today, the Little Belt is home to more than 200 species of plants and at least 70 different species of animals. In 2008, part of the tracks between the Porte d’Auteuil and the Gare de Passy-la-Muette became accessible as a walking route and nature trail. The rest, as Atlas Obscura notes, is currently off limits, but “its accessibility from nine arrondissements makes it popular with urban explorers.”

After discovering the rails in 2010 while walking with a friend in southern Paris, Pierre Folk became one of those explorers, driven by an interest in capturing the “relation between society and its environment,” and the physical traces those societies leave in their wake. He calls his project, “By the Silent Line.” “This project is mostly about the notion of temporality and the way our society deals with its technological revolutions,” he said via email. “I believe the series somehow tells a great deal about man as well.”

Pierre_Folk_09
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_04
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_05
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Advertisement

First, Folk scouted locations on the Belt without his camera. Then, he returned there with his gear over and over, often to the same locations at different times of the day and the year. Some sections are below street level, while others are elevated, providing a birds-eye view of the bustle of Paris. There are also many tunnels, including some over half a mile long. “Overall, it’s very quiet. In the morning, you can hear birds sing, which gives the feeling of being away from the city, “ he said.

While many Parisians know the Belt by name, most “don’t imagine how large it is, even those who live right next to the rails,” Folk said. “Most Parisians think of la Petite Ceinture as wasteland, which is a common misconception. The line isn’t abandoned; it’s just mostly unused. Of course, some parts are more damaged than others with the passing of time but overall it is maintained in condition. Potentially, it could be reused for train circulation with just a bit of rehabilitation work.”

Pierre_Folk_01
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_02
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_10
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Over the past few years, Folk witnessed the birth of various projects along the railway, including the construction of community gardens and the conversion of old stations into bars, restaurants, and shops. He also had a few encounters with some of the native wildlife. “I think I broke the 100 meter dash record when I was chased by a Doberman next to a construction area,” he said.

As this development continues, Folk wrote in a statement, the railway “is likely to be reclaimed by modern society.” While Folk said Parisians may miss the Belt as a “place where past and modernity make their acquaintance,” he prefers to think its rehabilitation “could be a positive evolution, preserving the line’s soul.” “I suppose the important thing would be to avoid destroying or abandoning it, and to instead somehow rehabilitate or recycle it. Current projects are different depending on the neighborhoods. So, in the end, I think the development of the line is more of a plural future than a singular one.”

Pierre_Folk_06
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_08
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

Pierre_Folk_03
From the series, “By the Silent Line.”

Pierre Folk

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 29 2014 10:00 PM “Everything Must Change in Italy” An interview with Italian Prime Minster Matteo Renzi.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 29 2014 1:52 PM Do Not Fear California’s New Affirmative Consent Law
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 29 2014 12:01 PM This Is Your MOM’s Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.