RATP heritage, in a league of its own

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RATP unfolds an exciting industrial, urban, social and cultural adventure

Since its creation in 1949, RATP has been defining the depths and breadth of Paris, one of the densest cities in Europe, and has contributed to writing the capital’s history. Be it architectural heritage, works of art, the identity of various transport lines, industrial objects, signage or ticketing equipment, RATP’s heritage is an exciting tale of industrial, urban, social and cultural adventure.

“The heritage that RATP has built up over the decades is nothing short of exceptional. Living, breathing heritage. Heritage that is not only seen, but felt. That is the depth of its imprint on the urban landscape and collective imagination. Our heritage tells a tale of an adventure shared by a city, a region, its residents and visitors from across the world.”

Jean Castex

RATP Chairman and chief executive officer

75 years: Innovating for better urban mobility

RATP was heir to the Paris metro network designed by Fulgence Bienvenüe at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, the company continues to develop and deploy innovative solutions to continuously provide better service quality.

At every turn, RATP has successfully demonstrated ingenuity and innovation in its approach to upgrading infrastructure, expanding the transport network and offering services that fit passengers’ changing needs.

Landmark in public areas

The first underground line on the Paris metropolitan between Porte de Vincennes and Porte Maillot stations carried 17 million passengers between July and December 1900. The network has gone on to develop a mobility ecosystem that has been shaping the urban landscape.

RATP’s immense architectural heritage is part of a cast of icons that have played a part in defining Paris’ image. Although Guimard-style metro entrances were initially created to draw passengers to a new transport mode, they have since become symbols as timeless as yellow M signs and viaducts that bridge the Seine.

The yellow M symbol The recognisable illuminated yellow M made its appearance in the 1970s to replace Dervaux art deco lamp posts that were being phased out.

The large-lettered sign, which was designed to easily locate the underground network at street level, has been adopted as a Parisian symbol in the public’s collective imagination, similarly to the roundel across the London Underground.

More recently, “Point of interest” signposts designed by the Aurel Design Urbain studio have been deployed alongside Guimard-style entrances.

Shared living memory

RATP’s tangible and intangible heritage constitutes a cultural reference that is shared both across the company and with the general public, through places, visual icons, codes, and even language. What station staff call “la loge” (the lodge), is what the general public usually calls a driver’s cabin.

This heritage is a source of pride for the company and its employees, and is reflected in the RATP Group driving purpose, which was formalised in 2021 following a wide-scale internal mobilisation: “With over a century of experience and a unique know-how, RATP Group dedicates every day to better city living”.

Did you know?

Voices from the network
The first casting call was launched in 2005 for voice talent from the pool of RATP staff. Unlike many organisations, RATP prioritises voices from its staff, rather than synthetically generated ones. Different voices are used on every line, and provide the network with a unique personality.

Metro and typography, history in letters
From Hector Guimard’s dancing typography in 1900 to the font that Jean-François Porchez designed in 1996 to standardise signage across various transport modes, by using lowercase letters that have become an identifying element, RATP regularly updates the font on its signage to keep up with the times.

Expertise that links yesterday, today and tomorrow

How can the network be upgraded while preserving heritage? The answer can be found in RATP’s ingenuity, which combines craftsmanship and industrial expertise. As custodians of heritage with a high added value, the teams in charge of maintaining and upgrading infrastructure continuously weigh the merits of preserving history and increasing efficiency.

This is where our teams’ expertise excels to improve the performance of a line in operation by introducing the most cutting-edge systems and technologies while factoring in the history and environment of the line.

Sylvie Buglioni

RATP Group Technical and Industrial division director

Infrastructural heritage in a few key figures

1,000 km of track (metro and RER)
380 km of underground and elevated structures
900 escalators

Stringent aesthetic requirements

The cultural policy forms an integral part of RATP’s brand strategy.
Its aim is to combine form, function and beauty, as well as to make art accessible by facilitating the passenger’s encounters with sophisticated works of art in stations, which are ideal places for people to cross paths. 

Over one hundred pieces of art grace the network today, in addition to temporary installations that are set up during works. Some of these works are the result of cultural exchanges, such as the stained-glass artwork Night and Day by Chicago-based artist Judy Ledgerwood at Bir-Hakeim station, and the fresco by the Huichol indigenous people that adorns Palais-Royal – Musée du Louvre station, which was a donation from the Mexico City metro.

Designed over a century ago, the Paris metro stands out with its unique character that merges art, architecture and design in a constrained area. Unlike other functional examples, it illustrates the conviction that the metropolitan experience must be as attractive as it is useful to be truly enriching.

Patrick Jouin


Did you know?

In 1991, renovation works to metro line 12 platforms at Concorde station brought out an impressive cultural icon designed by Belgian artist Françoise Schein.

The 44,000 sandstone tiles that line every inch of the station’s arched walls reproduce the full text of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, letter by letter.

To further arouse curiosity, the artist removed spaces and punctuation between words.

A distinct identity

The metro network, as a source of living heritage, regularly undergoes change to match the unique identity of its lines and stations. Upgrading and renovation projects are therefore undertaken on a case-by-case basis. 

Take for example Charles de Gaulle – Étoile station, in which the colour scheme of the mosaics that cover the arched walls and ceiling underwent a makeover, to give passengers a visual treat along the length of stair tunnels. Extensions to metro line 11 comply with the characteristics of the line’s arched stations, as is the case with the new concrete-framed terminus station adorned with decorated beams to echo the arched ceilings of the long-standing metro.

Industrial heritage gets a new lease on life

For over 30 years, RATP has been developing an upgrading and urban integration policy on its industrial sites. As some of these sites were built at the beginning of the 20th century, they no longer fit current needs and rolling stock. These sites have been redeveloped into mixed-use developments that benefit those involved. The Vaugirard and Italie maintenance workshops have also enabled new neighbourhoods to spring up from the ground with housing units, offices, shops, childcare centres and gardens.

Electrical substations have also been targeted for redevelopment to accommodate new uses. Operating under the Urban Station brand, the rectifier substation known as ‘Petites Écuries’ little stables) in Paris’ 10th arrondissement has since been repurposed into a co-working area by RATP subsidiary RATP Real Estate in partnership with co-working specialist Morning. 

For tourists and passengers alike, public transport is often the first impression upon arriving in a city. When 20th-century architect Hector Guimard came up with his cheerful design, his aim was to raise the visibility and appeal of the underground network. Keep in mind that there would be no public transport networks without passengers !

Gordana Micic


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