Monday, February 16, 2015

The Catacombs Below Paris

Day 5 

During the 12th century much of what is Paris' Left bank was filled with limestone mining operations. The (often illegal) mines were conducted by digging a vertical shaft and then digging horizontally pretty much wherever the veins of limestone went until they ran out. 

As Paris grew in the 18th century, it grew directly over the top of these long abandoned mines. After a series of cave-ins beginning in 1774 Louis XVI created a commission to investigate and survey the Paris underground.

Coincidentally cemeteries in Paris were overflowing. The worst overcrowding was at Paris' principal cemetery (Saints Innocents church) which had been used since 1130 and now by the 19th century was a two meter high mound of bones.

As cavern stabilization was being achieved, the logic of relocating the bones from Paris' overflowing above ground cemeteries into its abandoned mines seemed a perfect fit. Initially the bones were just exhumed and dumped in the caverns. The Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury (head of Paris' mine inspections services) began turning the caverns into formal mausoleums by stacking skulls and femurs in various patterns.

Over the years the catacombs and ossuaries have been available for touring. Various sections are filled with graffiti dating back to 1871. During World War II Paris members of the French Resistance used the tunnels as did German soldiers.

Today a section of the Catacombs are operated as Paris' creepiest city run museum. The unassuming entrance is across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau Metro stop. The Admission price is 10E. Only 200 visitors may be in the catacombs at any time, so there are frequently lines waiting to enter. 

There is no elevator in or out of the catacombs. There are no restrooms. There are 130 spiral steps descending into the catacombs and 83 to exit. The floors are uneven, gravelly in parts and frequently wet and slippery. Travel is one-way. You enter one end set of stairs walk 2 KM then exit via another set of stairs.

So, herewith is Roadboy's welcome to the world's largest necropolis, Paris' empire of the dead. 

The Entrance Passages*

Stop! Here is The Empire of the Dead!
Home of more than 6,000,000 Skeletons

A Grotto*

A Barrel Column Composed of Human Bones*

A Heart*

Other Patterns*

One of Various Sculptures*

The Stairs At the End Leading Back to "Everyday" Paris*

All in all a fascinating place to visit. Not a suitable place to visit with small children or for anyone suffering from claustrophobia.

Roadboy's Travel © 2015

(*Thanks to Scott for his photos!)

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