Concorde is a station on lines 1, 8 and 12 of the Paris Métro right in central Paris, the 1st arrondissement. The station was opened on 13 August 1900, and has been leaving its travellers awe-struck ever since 1989. This was the year that its highly original décor was conceived by artist Françoise Schein.
Not only did she cover the entire station’s walls and ceilings with letters, but she sowed curiosity into the traditionally monotonous commute. This sense of curiosity is particularly ignited by the fact that the artist has put no spaces between the words and no punctuation, making you really work hard mentally to decrypt the spelling.
These weren’t just any letters chosen at random, however. The tiles spell the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen of 1789 (human rights declaration). This means the metro designers are trying to subtly share a serious message, admittedly, inflicting quite an intellectual reflection onto the daily commuters.
Of course, you don’t really get the chance to be illuminated by the wisdom encrypted in the tiles, as each metro usually takes only a couple of minutes to arrive. But if you can spare a slightly longer commute to marvel at the walls, then you’ll stumble across some very wise words.
One of the most striking sentences that will stay with you long after the metro train has deposited you at your destination relates to the corruption of contemporary society.
There’s a line that reads: “l’ignorance, l’oubli ou le mépris des droits de l’homme sont les seules causes de malheurs publics et de la corruption des gouvernements.” When translated into English, this spells a very poignant reflection: “Ignorance, forgetfulness or contempt for human rights are the only causes of public misfortune and corruption of governments.”
This line is so important to remember, because it insists on how the rights of humans should be kept universal. That is to say, they should be valid at all times and in every place, never forgotten or overlooked.
It’s reinforced by later lines that can be decrypted after plenty of squinting, such as the following: “Toute Société dans laquelle la garantie des Droits n’est pas assurée, ni la séparation des Pouvoirs déterminée, n’a point de Constitution.” Translated into English, this means: “Every society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has no constitution.”
By including these pearls of wisdom in the metro design, the artist wants us to remember that everything that is seen to be going wrong in this world – such as war – pertains to the corruption at the highest levels of power, as they overlook the fundamental human rights of those below them.
The document has inspired laws and governmental constitutions, and continues to have a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy across Europe. The surprise of seeing such important wisdom scattered across the walls of a metro has even inspired artists and poets too. For example, Ezra Pound’s famous Imagist poem, “In a Station of the Metro”, was inspired directly by this station.
The very fact that the words from this vital document have been aligned onto the wall of a very busy metro station suggests that the world needs reminding about human rights. It also suggests that if we can make time to take greater interest in the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves, even if just for five minutes during a morning commute, then the world would probably be a much better place.