The Paris Métro‘s art nouveau entrances and art deco candelabras are iconic. They are almost as readily recognizable as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe or the Louvre. The smell of the subway is almost equally iconic, but fortunately not as easily expressed via the internet.
A French friend explained to us that for something to be popular in France, it must be beautiful, even if it means sacrificing function. A lot of Paris’ beauty and charm lies in the elegance of everyday life. These subway signs are a perfect manifestation of this.
These “edicule” entrances were designed by the architect, Hector Guimard in 1899. Some conservative Parisians considered them too fanciful. Some saw the wrought-iron stems clutching glowing reddish balls, pistils and stamens of flowers, as suggestive. Eventually, acceptance grew. Nevertheless, they didn’t have the appreciation they enjoy today. Many of the signs were torn down over the years, in the name of modernization. Eventually, Paris recognized their beauty, value and symbolic power. In the late 70’s the remaining ones were declared historic landmarks. At the end of the century, they restored the remaining art nouveau Metro entrances.
Cool huh? We aren’t the only ones who think so. The New York Modern Art Museum bought the old wrought-iron railings from a Metro entrance. They are on display as a pioneering, beautiful example of art nouveau.