There’s something awfully alluring about an old abandoned railway with some sections still intact, just lying around the perimeter of Paris. La Petite Ceinture (little belt) was a railway that hosted passenger and freight steam trains until 1934 when the development of the metro and cars made it a thing of the past.1
I first heard of it in a video called “Top secret places in Paris” video, but unlike the video’s other listed locations, there was no map because apparently access is forbidden. But really, it’s not too much of a secret when there’s a small area that opened in 2013 along with a restaurant in one of the train stations.
If you’re like me and my friends and have an urge to explore the quieter areas, bring good running shoes! (Perhaps it’s already obvious, but something I learned the hard way). Also useful- long pants, some willingness to get your hands dirty and of course luck to not get in trouble.
We started somewhere along the perimeter of the 13ieme arrondissement with a bridge overlooking the railroad about two stories below. There were already some other urban explorers down there and they appeared to be much more prepared than my newbish friends and I. While we were simply wearing t-shirts and shorts (me unwisely in sandals), they wore cargo pants, hats and hiking backpacks.
Trying to figure out a way to get down, we debated whether we should shout out and ask how they entered. It looked like embarrassing ourselves wasn’t an option when they disappeared from our view, going under the other bridge tunnel. So, we decided to hoist ourselves over the small bridge parapet onto the hill that slopes down to the tracks and figure things out from there.
Slowly walking along the top of the hill using one side of the building wall as support, we tiptoed through the plants and weeds, careful to avoid thorny branches, garbage and broken glass. In the bushes there was an opening to a ledge-like portion of the hill that made for an easier way to scramble down.
Finally we had a small leap to get off the ledge to the tracks where we could safely take a look around. There wasn’t green moss growth everywhere between the tracks and on the walls like I’ve seen in some photos, the graffiti was still pretty cool.
My friends and I continued walking until we reached a graffitied drywall with a small hole
where beside it were marked “La Petite Ceinture Survivra” (The little belt survives/remains)
On the other side wasn’t some epic magical place but just an empty construction site.
But I did find a old French copy of John Milton’s “Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing”
The sky was beginning to darken and we were overall satisfied with our adventure, and ready to look for an exit. Exploring an abandoned train track is one thing, but we probably shouldn’t be in a construction site with working equipment and tools, Walking to the end of the site seemed like a safer option than climbing the scaffolding. Under another bridge we went, clambering over wooden planks and foam boards eventually led to deteriorating stone steps up a boarded up building that once had an impressive balcony.
There was no obvious exit. A space under the fence was just too small to slip through so our only choice was climbing over the fence. We hoped that none of the occasionally passing cars or pedestrians would report three twenty-something people climbing over the fence from a construction site. Luckily even if they did, a metro stop was close by so we were quickly gone and on our way without any incidents except for the dust on our hands and shoes.
Being able to visit a green space that provides a quiet reserve in the busy city of Paris as my first urban exploration was a great experience, it’d be interesting to see what they do with the space in the future.