The Overgrown, Disused Railway That Still Runs Around Paris

The Overgrown, Disused Railway That Still Runs Around Paris

Paris has a lot of history embedded in its sprawling urban grid, which has seen thousands of years of structural change. But even though space is at a premium, there are still spots that have evaded development and slowly drifted into obscurity.

When photographer Pierre Folk was new to the city, he happened upon Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (or “Little Belt Railway“), a 32km stretch of disused tracks along the Parisian perimeter; then he lugged around 10kg of gear for the past four years taking pics of the overgrown, graffitied scene for his series “By the Silent Line“.

The railway was constructed in 1852; at that time, the major stations were owned by different companies, and this was a way to streamline connections through a path that tunneled, bridged, and cut a deep-walled passage within the crowded streets.

By the 1930s, service around the perimeter was discontinued, and now this dormant system has become overgrown and largely forgotten, save for the civic explorers searching for some peace and quiet — the perfect site for Folk, who says he’s always been interested in the “relationship between society and its physical environment,” he told me over email.

“This project is mostly about the notion of temporality and the way we deal with industrial and technological revolutions. It depicts our tendency, as a species, to move on to something else in a heartbeat — to the next paradigm shift, regardless of the concept of waste. Not waste in the sense of thrown away, but in the sense of being idle. It is there, only with no real purpose.”

And yet there’s still huge potential here for new life. “Of course, some parts are more damaged than others with the passing of time but overall it is maintained in state.”

In order to find the most photogenic locales, Folk would scout places out with a pal, then go back multiple times with his 4×5 large-format view camera and wooden tripod — often before sunrise, in every season — until he got the light and shots he was looking for.

As for the future of the Little Belt, it’s not surprising that developers are eager to convert this prime real estate into something new, with potential ranging from a New York-style High Line to community gardens; or even some form of transportation again. Maybe someday pics like these will be all that remain of the Little Belt’s forsaken heyday. [Colossal; BBC News; Pierre Folk]