History From the Bottom Up

June 4, 2013

Featured

Sewer tours are a popular attraction throughout Europe

 

A separate feature of the Old Wastewater Treatment Plant tour in Bubeneč, Czech Republic, is an underground raft ride. Photo courtesy of Tomáš Věžník.

A separate feature of the Old Wastewater Treatment Plant tour in Bubeneč, Czech Republic, is an underground raft ride. Photo courtesy of Tomáš Věžník.

The Eiffel Tower? Been there, done that. A walking tour of Victorian architecture? Yes, but Rick Steves covered that ad nauseum. A taste of Vienna? Yesterday’s leftovers.

No, to truly experience Europe and all its varied sights, sounds, and smells, look no farther than the ground you’re standing on — or, rather, under the ground you’re standing on. Any devoted wastewater professional can gain an education in Old World sewerage with these popular sewer tours. Most cost less than $10 and take about an hour, leaving plenty of time for those other, lesser attractions.

You may not earn any continuing education units, but you will earn the right to brag online.

England

Brighton Sewer Tours

Visitors take the popular sewer tour under the city of Brighton, about 1.5 hours from London. Photo courtesy of Brighton Water.

Visitors take the popular sewer tour under the city of Brighton, about 1.5 hours from London. Photo courtesy of Brighton Water.

Tours operated by wastewater utility Southern Water (Worthing) take groups of 25 through 365 m (400 yd) of 150-year-old tunnels beneath the town of Brighton, a small city on the southern coast of England. The hourlong tours take public groups on a walk through the labyrinth of egg-shaped tunnels starting from Palace Pier. The tour ends with groups emerging from a manhole in the middle of a historic garden.

Visitors receive safety instructions, hard hats, passes, and protective latex gloves to wear. The tour requires climbing up and down ladders; sewers are hosed down before every tour to ensure that they are as clean as possible and less slippery.

Cost: £12 ($19) per adult; £6 ($9) for 11- to 16-year-olds; £8.50 ($13) for ages 65 and older.

Restrictions: Booking required. Only for ages 11 and older. No handicap access.


France

Musee des Egouts de Paris (Sewer Museum of Paris)

The tour takes visitors to the bowels of Paris. The existing sewer system dates back to 1850, when engineer Eugene Belgrand designed the 2400-km sewer network.

The 1-hour tour is focused on the heart of the sewer network, which includes the collection system at Avenue Bosquet and Cognac–Jay, the storm overflow room of the Resistance, or the point emissary from the south, which takes some of the wastewater from the left bank to a treatment plant at Achères. Models and actual wastewater equipment are displayed throughout the corridors of the tour circuit and include a car valve for sewer cleaning, a boat valve in major collectors, and an old lift pump.

Cost: €4.30 ($6) for adults; €3.50 ($4.50) per person in groups of 10 and for students or children ages 6 to 16.


Austria

The Third Man Sewer Tour

<i>The Third Man </i> sewer tour offers underground sights for film and history buffs alike. Photo courtesy of Wien Kanal (Vienna).

The Third Man sewer tour offers underground sights for film and history buffs alike. Photo courtesy of Wien Kanal (Vienna).

Step back in time and squarely into the underground chase scene of the 1949 mystery thriller The Third Man starring Orson Welles on this popular 45-minute tour of the Vienna sewers. The sewers date back to 100 A.D., when the Romans built a highly sophisticated sewer system. Today, Vienna continues to boast a modern sewer system and treatment works.

Cost: €7 ($9) for adults; €3.50 ($4.50) for children.

Restrictions: Due to the high popularity of the tour, reservations are recommended. Minimum age is 12, and individuals must be able to travel narrow, dark, and slippery corridors. Infection-prone individuals are not allowed.


Czech Republic

Old Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bubeneč

This 80-minute guided tour of an old treatment plant in Bubeneč, Prague, includes a walk through nonfunctioning sewers beneath the plant and plant steam rooms and boiler rooms, which house original (and operational) steam-driven machines and wastewater treatment equipment. Visitors also can take a raft ride of underground sedimentation tanks, but reservations must be made at least 1 week in advance and separately from the tour. Cost for the raft ride depends on the number of persons in the group.

Cost: CZK150 ($7.50) for adults; CZK70 ($3.50) for students and seniors; CZK300 ($15) for families (two adults, two children). Separate cost for raft ride.

Restrictions: Groups of more than 10 require a reservation.


Belgium

Brussels Sewers Museum

Brussels is home to an extensive 300-km (190-mi) underground network of sewers. The Brussels Sewers Museum is an homage to sewer workers for their difficult, dangerous, and indispensable work. Visitors descend to tunnels beneath the Senne River to rooms displaying models illustrating the history of the collection system, videos, and maps explaining flood prevention and water treatment, renovation history, and maintenance techniques used by sewer workers. Visitors also learn fun facts about interesting objects (and animals) found in the sewers.

Cost: €3 ($4) for adults; €2 ($2.50) for ages 7 to 15; free for children ages 6 and younger. €2 ($2.50) per person in groups of 10 or more.

Restrictions: Tours must be booked in advance by mail.

— Cathy Chang, WEF Highlights

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