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CULTURE

The seven stats that reveal how Paris really is the world’s capital of culture

So Paris has a reputation as a city filled to the brim with culture. It's the home of the world's most visited gallery and monument as well as being an inspiration for films, novels and artists - but how does it really stack up compared to the rest of the world's cities when it comes to culture offering?

The seven stats that reveal how Paris really is the world's capital of culture
Photo: AFP

Data published by the World Cities Culture Forum shows that Paris really is top of the class when it comes to cultural markers such as the number of museums, cinemas and concert halls.

Amelie is filmed and set in Paris

1. Cinemas.

Paris leads the world in cinema numbers, with 312 in the city, compared to 188 in Shenzhen, China and 163 in London.

The city was home to the world's first cinema screening in 1895 and the capital's fascination with film has not waned since then with a huge range of cinemas on offer from the big multiplexes showing the latest blockbusters to smaller, independent movie houses showing quirky or arthouse films. The city has one screen for every 6,000 inhabitants, compared to the United States which has one screen for every 7,400 people, and the UK and Germany have one screen for every 17,000 people.

There is also a big choice of foreign films and, in summer, outdoor screenings. For English speakers, cinema club Lost in Frenchlation runs screenings of French films with English subtitles.

But it's not just watching films, Paris also likes to star in films. In fact the city is used so often as a movie set that there is even a name – Paris Syndrome – for the disconnect people feel when they arrive and discover that the real city is not quite as picture perfect as in the movies.

READ ALSO Paris and cinema – why the French capital is the city of the silver screen

The Musée de la Chasse et la Nature. Photo: AFP

2. Museums

With 297 of them, Paris also wins the museum category beating Moscow with 261 and Los Angeles with 219. With so many to choose from there really is a museum for everybody in Paris.

The best known such as the natural history museum attract millions of visitors every year, but there are some distinctly more offbeat museums to choose from. There's a museum of magic, a hunting museum with a frankly incredible collection of stuffed animals, a museum of vampires and several different options if preserved human bodies are your thing.

READ ALSO The top 10 must-see weird museums in Paris

La Philharmonie concert hall. Photo: AFP

3. Concert hall

Another category that Paris leads is big music venues, with 16 compared to 15 in New York and 13 in Tokyo. There's a huge variety here from classical music at the modernist La Philharmonie to opera at Opéra Bastille and contemporary music at the Bataclan or the Olympia. But as well as the big venues, Paris is also a city that appreciates its music, with many hundreds if not thousands of small venues and bars offering everything from jazz to rap.

If you love your music, don't miss the Fête de la Musique, when pretty much every bar, concert hall, open space and street corner has a different musical offering.

READ ALSO Drag queens, cognac and divorce – fifty five years as a cabaret singer in Paris

The Palace of Versailles. Photo: AFP

4. Unesco World heritage sites

The greater Paris region has four of these, joint top with London and Amsterdam and beating Rome, which has three. The banks of the Seine as it flows through the centre of Paris were classified as a world heritage site in 1991, joining the Île de France historic chateau of Versailles and Fontainebleu. Also in the greater Paris region is the medieval town of Provins, which was granted heritage status in 2001.

Paris also has a couple of applications pending so this number could be set to grow – the classic Parisian café terrace could be given world heritage status along with les bouquinistes – the booksellers who line the banks of the Seine with their classic green wooden boxes.

READ ALSO Ten French Unesco sites you probably won't have heard of – but should definitely visit

Photo: AFP

5. Bookshops

Paris doesn't top this category, but still makes a respectable showing with 1,251 bookshops, slightly behind Chengdgu, Melbourne, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

As well as the above mentioned street booksellers Paris also has a thriving independent bookstore scene, plus the usual big chains.

The French government has over the years enacted several measures to protect independent booksellers and across the country there are about 2,500 independent book sellers.

Probably the best known English-language bookstore is Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank. Founded by American Sylvia Beach in 1919 it rapidly became the hangout for the Anglophone arty set in Paris, including Ernest Hemmingway, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. It is still going strong today with a lively programme of book signings, readings and events. In fact it's now so popular that in summer you often have to queue to get in, so many locals prefer to get their English language book fix from the Abbey Bookshop, set up in 1989 by Canadian Brian Spence. 

READ ALSO Why does Paris have so many independent shops?

The Louvre attracts 10 million visitors a year. Photo: AFP

6. Art galleries

Paris is just pipped to the post in this category by New York which has 1,475 galleries to Paris' 1,142, but Paris undoubtedly has some of the most stunning collections of art in the world. The big hitters in the gallery world such as the Louvre – the world's most visited – and the Musée d'Orsay attract millions of visitors with their enormous and fabulous collections, but there are also plenty of smaller and quirkier galleries to visit.

In central Paris the Musée de l'Orangerie is the perfect size (ie you can see everything in one visit before your feet start hurting) and contains a fabulous collection including Monet's waterlilies friezes while in the north of the city the Musée de Montmartre has a great collection of the area's best artists (plus beautiful gardens and a café selling good cake).

READ ALSO Five of the best exhibitions in Paris this summer

Le Bouillon Chartier in Montmatre. Photo: AFP

7. Restaurants

Perhaps surprisingly for a city that values its food, Paris only came third in this category with 44,896 restaurants beaten by Seoul with 88,239 and Tokyo which has an enormous 148,582 places to eat.

We would still contend that Paris restaurants are pretty good, however. There's obviously some fancy options like Alain Ducasse's Plaza Athénée  where dinner will set you back about €250 not including drinks (but we hear it's very nice) but for great traditional cooking at very reasonable prices it's well worth checking out Paris' bouillon restaurants that offer very classic French cooking in lovely settings.

READ ALSO Revealed – the hot French dining trend that's traditional, delicious and cheap

 

Member comments

  1. I think that figure of ‘312 cinemas in the city’ has been proven false. It might mean cinema screens, but not cinemas. That would be a lot per arrondissement and having lived here for a long time, it’s just not true!

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CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

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