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Just beneath the surface of Paris lies an extensive network of tunnels and caves that compose the 2,400 kilometers of Paris’ sewer system. The underground tunnels, which include the famous catacombs, are so complex and well-connected that they mimic the city streets above ground and are identified by the same street signs and addresses. The Sewer Museum or Musée des Egouts offers visitors the opportunity to explore this subterranean system and discover the intricate inner workings of the city (and has a far shorter line than the Catacomb Museum).

The Paris sewer system has been an attraction for tourists and residents since its first public showcase at the 1867 World Exposition. Between 1892 and 1920, sewer visits were conducted by a locomotive-powered wagons on the last Saturday of each month, and from 1920-1975 vistors could travel in a boat along the main sewer between Madeleine and Place de la Concorde.

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Today visitors can descend into the sewers of Paris and catch a glimpse of the infrastructure beneath the city. Gallery spaces are spread throughout the labyrinth of tunnels giving visitors a first-hand experience of the the vast system. The exhibition displays a chronological history of the sewer system tracing its development through the centuries.

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Machinery used to clean and maintain the sewers are on display demonstrating how advancements in engineering have contributed to the creation a sanitary and highly efficient system. The exhibit highlights some original technology that is still used today, including a large steel ball that travels through the sewer tunnels in order to remove backed up sewage.

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The Paris sewer system remains one of the city’s greatest accomplishments. The Sewer Museum showcases engineering feats far ahead of their time and reveals the immense network of connections beneath the city. For a chance to explore subterranean Paris and gain a unique perspective on the history of the city visit the sewer museum located underground across from 93 Quai d’Orsay.

Perhaps the most important question: Does it smell? A little, particularly in the gallery with all the historical information. We took our time there, but most people go through it pretty quickly. Overall, not too bad for a museum within an operational sewer system. Check out the slideshow for more photos inside the Sewer Museum.