Old Paris Metro Map (Detail)
This is simply gorgeous. The fact that the RER terminates at Nation dates this map from between 1969 (when the RATP first purchased the line from the SNCF) and 1977 (when the line was extended through Paris and became the RER “A” line we know today). The original post on Flickr does not note where this map is (or was) located.
Historical Map: Paris Metro Map, 1956
Transit maps today are created on computer, and printed with advanced technology. We think nothing of using many different colours, adding a drop shadow behind type, adding a gradient to the background, transparency effects - all things that state-of-the-art design software makes perhaps a little too easy.
As a contrast to these glitzy new-fangled maps, I present an antidote: a simply stunning, beautiful and ever-so-French map of the Paris Metro from 1956. It’s printed with just two colours, but a clever use of hatching and stippling allows the city limits, forests and the Seine to be shown with absolute clarity and elegant simplicity.
Have we been there? Yes, just not in 1956.
What we like: Elegant and simple. The two colours are beautifully selected and match each other perfectly and serve the purpose of the map well. Typography is gorgeous, with the suburb names - set in an elegant script - particularly standing out. Discreet numbering of the lines allows you to trace them relatively easily, even though they’re all the same colour. Historical interest with the inclusion of the gold Ligne de Sceaux - a line owned by the RATP that ran on a completely different gauge and with different rolling stock to the rest of the Metro. Much of it is now incorporated into RER Line B.
What we don’t like: Incredibly minor nitpick: the ornate compass rose looks a little at odds with the stylish simplicity of the rest of the map.
Our rating: A shining example of simple, elegant, usable mid- 20th century design. Every element of this map serves a purpose. Does more with two colours than many modern maps achieve with unlimited colours. 5 stars!
Postcards from Paris - Métro Edition
Here’s an interesting comparison of three different postcards of the Paris Métro system - one of which uses the official RATP artwork, and two more which definitely don’t. All three are of similar vintage (from at least 2007, as they all show the southern end of Line 14 at Olympiades station, which opened in that year). So they’re all basically showing the same thing, but take different approaches towards it.
The first postcard uses the official RATP map, modified slightly to fit the awkward dimensions of the postcard. The 45-degree angles of the real map are now more like 30, but the diagram still holds together remarkably well. The clarity of design also allows this card to show the RER commuter rail lines, something the other two postcards don’t even contemplate.
The other two cards seem to use a more geographical approach to the system layout, the white card even going so far as to place the route lines over a street grid that is more decorative than informative. However, there’s still some serious distortion of routes, especially towards the edges of the card. The white map gives up on accuracy altogether with the ends of Line 7, just drawing dead straight lines along the border of the card to fit things in.
The black card looks dramatic, but there somehow seem to be more station labels on this version than the other two, resulting in what looks like a white cloud of station names covering the entire card.
You’ll also notice that the two unofficial maps don’t use the official colours for any of the lines - probably to steer clear of any legal issues. However, this isn’t really a problem in Paris as lines are referred to by number and terminus station in the direction of travel, not by route colour. It would get confusing really fast, anyway: “Take the Light Green Line… no, not that Light Green, this Light Green…”
For me, the official map is clearly the best of the three, bringing clarity to the system even in a small, condensed space. The others would make fun souvenirs, but are not top quality cartography by any stretch of the imagination.