We all have it; that itch for exploring, to discover what’s behind the closed doors of our cities, under our feet and overhead. Urban environments hide buried secrets of the past all around us and if curious enough, we can find them.
For a while now, I’ve been following the online imprint of a small rogue community that refers to what they do as ‘urban exploration’.
“After dark, the city is ours,” says Dsankt (alias name), photographer and founder of Sleepcity.net who ‘plays’ in the metro tunnels, abandoned buildings, bridges and rooftops of various cities he passes through.
Living a pseudo-hobo lifestyle, Dsankt has spent about two years in Paris, from what I can tell, dodging French security as he and his friends extensively explored the metro’s tunnel systems along with its abandoned ghost stations. They also managed to climb their way to the top of some of Paris’ most famous monuments by night, treating themselves to views of the city very few people if any at all, have ever been privy too.
Dsankt says he fell in love with Paris and its underground mazes as soon as he arrived. “The kind of love which inspires one to risk life, limb and deportation to get up close and personal.”
He first went in search of Paris’ much whispered about ghost stations. Difficult and extremely risky to access, some of these stations were abandoned during the war when metro employees were recruited to the military and never reopened.
Today, they’re used by RATP (the French subway system) to store disused carriages or diesel powered work trains. “Anywhere the RATP stores trains is guaranteed to bring adventure,” says Dsankt. But more rare are the ghost stations that never opened; never connected to the world above. For one reason or another, they were never finished.
Here are some carriages they found from the 1960s being stored in a ghost station.
The red carriages were for first class ticket holders and green, second class. Yup, there was a first and second class on the old metro system. Pretty amazing!
These are photos of hand painted ceramic tile adverts from the 1940s in the largest abandoned ghost station, St Martin. They have never been seen by the public.
Fellow explorer and photographer Sargent Marshall (another alias) who also documents his nocturnal adventures on Pridian.net admits, “If you met me you would never suspect that I could be behind all this.” On the legality of what he does Marshall says, “We’re not hurting anyone… so why would anyone care?”.
The midnight wanderers go for a climb up the Grand Palais … (as you do). I’ve heard a beekeeper keeps several bee houses on the roof of the Grand Palais to make honey. Let’s hope they didn’t run into them!
The Pantheon …
See the guy up on the roof there?
Ofcourse, there are big risks to their midnight wandering. Dsankt recounts a few of his hairiest on his site:
“Being 10 seconds from running headlong into a ghost train [robot train] … They’re unconcerned by our weak, fleshy bodies and totally indifferent to whether said body remains in one piece, or many smeared down 100m of track. It’s inevitable that over the course of our adventures we’d encounter these beasts up close and personal.”
“Hiding on the floor of a layed up train near molitor waiting for the cleaners walking by to leave.”
“The looks on their faces [security guards] when, expecting bags of spraypaint, we opened our backpack and out came the pile of 1 series bodies and lenses.”
“The police stopping beside us one night while we were trying to open a locked metro manhole with a street sweeper bristle. Then them deciding it was a catacomb manhole and asking us about the catacombs.”
“Being chased away from a tunnel into a yard by a single security guard yelling “bougez pas bougez pas!”. Yeah right!….We’d heard lots of stories about RATP security forgoing the usual legal punishments and simply beating up those found in the tunnels and kicking them out onto the street.”
Dankst and his crew have gone further than just dodging the trains, they’ve even managed to start an abandoned metro car and take it for a spin …
“The manual was nowhere to be seen, the controls are labeled in cryptic french but we could get [the] puppy rollin.”
So how’s your thirst for exploration?
Or would you report these urban explorers if you caught them breaking the rules?
We’re closer than you think, you and I. We’ve passed within grasp upon the streets, late at night when the misty clouds of warm breath momentarily hang in the air.
I’ll leave you with one last quote from Dsankt’s fascinating and poetic website.
– “What do you know about hopping trains?” I asked.
– “Git on ’em and go” he said.
– “Which ones?” I asked.
– “The ones that move.”
The words thundered like the voice of God. [Evasion]
Thanks to SleepCity.net and Pridian.net for taking the risks to bring us such an amazing perspective on Paris!