Urban explorers generally investigate the forbidden or the shut down, but rarely do they explore what is freely open to the general public. Although the over-familiarity of shopping centres and transport networks may offer little of interest, the mysterious world of hospitals is always a fascinating place to travel.
For those wondering where to start, I recommend the Hôpital Lariboisière. The hospital is situated in the heart of Paris, just a two-minute hop from the Gare du Nord, but exists in its own little world beyond the buzz of the city.
Named after the Comtesse Élisa de Lariboisière, who stipulated that her fortune be spent on the creation of a hospital in Paris after her death, it is one of the most attractive in the city. It was built in the 1840s following an outbreak of cholera in Paris that the city struggled to control, and according to hygienist theories. The hygienist design meant plenty of air and light, and this is constantly visible in the central courtyard and the corridors and terraces that surround it. Centrally placed is the chapel, featuring three statues, 'La Foi', 'L'Espérance', et 'La Charité' (faith, hope and charity - all three seen as being crucial to the lives of patients at the time!)
Although the surroundings are handsome in bone white stone, I prefer to wander the corridors in search of curiosities and future ruins. Near one doorway, a palimpsest written out in stone. Here a memorial marble for hospital staff killed in the war has been grafted on to a commemorative plaque from another era.
At the top of a deserted staircase is an unexpected viewpoint. Many patients at the hospital must have similar vistas of monuments and wide open skies.
Hospitals are necessarily living structures that adapt with the times. Alongside the 19th century structures of the Hôpital Lariboisière are others that are much more recent, and occasionally this offers interesting contrasts. The hygienist principles of space, light and air are immediately obvious in the original corridors, but other theories must have been prevalent when the extension was built that leads off from here.
Certain features survive, such as window seats, but now they are in wood. Daylight has slipped away, and now it is artificial lighting that leads me along the corridor. This path gets slowly darker, and is rendered more unnerving by the raised voices of a dispute that pierce an unmarked door. At the end is another door with a sign telling me that this is the way towards the morgue.
It's time to turn round and head back towards the light.