For a hundred and ten years, from 1859 to 1969, there was a railway line that started at Place de la Bastille and went east to Reuilly, Bel-Air and Saint-Mandé. This line went on a viaduct above street level for nearly two kilometers before descending to ground level at the station of Reuilly and then going through some cuts and tunnels for the rest of its route towards the eastern suburbs. On YouTube there is a ten-minute film (in French) about the history of this railway line, which was still using filth-spewing steam locomotives when train service finally ceased in 1969.
The old railway terminus at Place de la Bastille was torn down in the 1980s to make room for the magnificent new Opéra Bastille. The viaduct was (mostly) preserved along with other parts of the old right-of-way. These were gradually transformed into a “green corridor” or “green belt”, now officially called the Coulée Verte René-Dumont, formerly known as the Promenade Plantée.
René Dumont (1904-2001) was a French agronomist, sociologist and environmental politician. He ran for President of the Republic in 1974 as the first ecologist candidate, and received 1.32% of the votes. (That election was won by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, with the Socialist candidate François Mitterrand coming in as a very close second.)
This sign on the Coulée Verte René-Dumont reads: “This is a space for walking. The practice of jogging is tolerated as long as it does not disturb the walkers.” I must admit that when I walked this part of the green corridor I was not at all disturbed by the joggers, many of whom were gorgeous young women.
Here at Rue du Rambouillet part of the viaduct was lost to a botched building project. But at least there is a slit in the building where we can walk through to reach the next section of the viaduct.
On the viaduct there are even some ponds, in addition to trees and plants of all sorts.
At the end of the viaduct, the green corridor continues by crossing this footbridge over the Garden of Reuilly, a park that was created in 1992 on the grounds of a former railway freight station. The footbridge starts to sway when people jog across it, but I’m told this is intentional (not a glitch but a feature, as software developers would say).
This sign at the entrance to the Garden of Reuilly reveals that the official name of the park is Jardin de Reuilly-Paul-Pernin. The sign explains:
“The name of this garden pays homage to the deputy of Paris, Paul Pernin (1914-2006). Elected councilor of Paris in the 12th district in 1977, re-elected in 1983 and 1989, he was also mayor of the district from 1983 to 1995.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the hamlet of Rully, as it had been called since the Middle Ages, was surrounded by convents and private mansions including the Folly of Rambouillet [folly in the sense of a fanciful or eccentric building]. Its garden, called “of Reuilly” descended all the way to the Seine [a distance of nearly a kilometer].
Created on the grounds of the former freight station of Reuilly, the circular lawn of the current garden evokes the memory of this folly. Decorated with statues of women, it is composed of several small thematic gardens.”
No passenger trains have stopped here since 1969, and the railroad tracks have long since been replaced by an attractive garden, but the old station building of Reuilly still exists. It is now used as the House of Associations for the 12th district.
On the west side of the former station building, I was glad to see that there is a street named after the French composer Paul Dukas (1865-1935). This is a short street which is largely car-free, being open only for deliveries. The old station building is on the right. The new building on the left has restaurants and shops.
Paul Dukas started several operas but only completed one of them, Ariane et Barbe-Bleue (Ariadne and Bluebeard), based on a play by Maurice Maeterlinck. I saw this opera several times at the Frankfurt Opera in 2008 and 2012 in a staging by Sandra Leupold, with brilliant costumes by Eva-Mareike Uhlig. An unusual feature of this opera is that one of the characters, Ariane, does nearly all of the singing. (The first Ariane was Maeterlinck’s wife.) Even Bluebeard, the other title character, has only a few lines to sing, and his other wives sing either nothing or just a few bars while Ariadne tries unsuccessfully to persuade them to leave their oppressor and come with her to freedom. (I am listening to a recording of Ariane et Barbe-Bleue as I write this.)
A short section of the former railway line, about 250 meters long, has been turned into a pleasant street called Allée Vivaldi, with a wide green stripe in the center. The street was named (in 1991) after the Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), who contrary to popular belief did not compose ONLY the “Four Seasons”, but also numerous other works including 20, 46 or 94 operas.
Vivaldi himself, who was an opera impresario for two decades, claimed to have composed 94 operas, but only 46 have been identified and only 20 are still extant, at least in part. I have only seen one of his operas so far, Orlando Furioso, in two different productions, first in Darmstadt as staged by Rosemund Gilmore in 2002, and later in Frankfurt as staged by David Bösch in 2010 and revived in 2014. Both of these were cute and colorful productions with energetic young casts.
As for Vivaldi’s concerto “The Four Seasons” from the year 1723, it is no doubt his most famous work and is so popular that it is performed more or less daily all over Europe in tourist concerts, for instance in Paris, Prague, Verona or Salzburg. (I’ll have more to say about these concerts some other time.)
At the end of Allée Vivaldi you can walk or ride through this tunnel to reach the eastern part of the Coulée Verte René-Dumont. Parallel walking and cycling paths on this part of the green corridor lead to Rue Édouard-Lartet, near the boundary between Paris and Saint-Mandé.
Unlike the western part of the green corridor, which is on a viaduct, this part is at or below ground level, following the former train line through cuts and tunnels. While the western part is only for walking (and jogging), the eastern part also has a separate path for cyclists.
The main reason for discontinuing the old railway line was that there are now much faster ways to get to the same places. The Métro line number 1, which has been running since 1900, now takes only eight minutes to get from the Bastille to Saint-Mandé. And the RER A line, which was opened in 1977, now takes only six minutes to get from Gare de Lyon to Vincennes.
My photos in this post are from 2007 and 2015. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on the Faubourg Saint Antoine in Paris.