Discover Paris’ Little Belt, an Abandoned Railway

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By the Silent Line (cropped) / Pierre Folk

Since 2011, photographer Pierre Folk has traversed Paris’ Petite Ceinture, or Little Belt Railway, which has been abandoned since the 1930s. Apparently, discussions have been ongoing since last year about the line’s future. Ideas include tearing up pieces of the 20-mile (32-kilometer) railway so as to free up room for new development or preserving the railway and turning into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly linear park. Parts of the line have been reused for contemporary railway infrastructure, but much of it remains outside the civic realm, except for a small piece opened to the public.

Access to the Little Belt — which is elevated, ground-level, or subterranean — is still forbidden, but that hasn’t kept Folk or others from getting a closer look. One tunnel of the old line even provides access to the city’s catacombs.

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According to Wikipedia, the railway was first conceived in the 1840s as a military transport system, a way to convey troops and material around the city. The railway was built in the space between an existing “tax wall” and a “larger and better-fortified ring of protection,” an outer wall. The French government couldn’t afford to complete the line on their own, so they asked the major rail companies for support in uniting all their lines in the capital. In a long-term lease with the government, these companies created the infrastructure, which evolved into railways for passenger and freight trains, and maintained it until the early 1930s, when other networks began to supersede these lines.

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As Folk captures, the Little Belt is being slowly reclaimed by nature, providing a home to opportunistic trees and plants. The railway is also a canvas for street artists.

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We hope that Folk’s photographs will lead to the preservation of this charming piece of infrastructure, much like Joel Sternfeld’s evocative photographs of a wild High Line helped convince New York City’s policymakers there was something worth saving.

Explore the layers and layers Folk finds and watch a video.

Also, check out these great abstract photographs of Parisian rooftops.

3 thoughts on “Discover Paris’ Little Belt, an Abandoned Railway

  1. Cindy at enclos*ure 09/16/2014 / 12:20 am

    I hope it is preserved and made accessible to the public. Looking at these pictures though, it seems that the designers will have a hard time improving on what nature has already done.

  2. Laurel Barton 09/17/2014 / 10:55 am

    Saw some of this when in Paris last year and wondered what the back story was. Thanks for highlighting the still-available potential for reuse even in a densely populated urban area.

  3. Steven Chavez 09/18/2014 / 4:01 pm

    Looks like a magical place to explore. Hopefully a minimal design intervention is all it needs to make it accessible to the public.

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