One of the most Macabre places that you will ever see in your lifetime is the Empire of the Dead that exists under the streets of Paris.
One of the places that was on the top of my daughters things to do list was to visit De Catacombes of Paris.
The Catacombs are a collection of quarried Limestone tunnels that run under the streets of Paris. These tunnels were created when mining for Lime Stone was big business, however instead of destroying the farm land above, early Parisians decided to tunnel underneath. The earliest of these tunnels and quarries dates back all the way to when the land was ruled by Rome. It wasn’t until later years that the mines were used as Ossuaries to hold the deceased of Paris. It is estimated that there are almost 6 million souls interred underneath Paris, this is more than actually live there today. Most of the bodies were moved there Under cover of darkness in the last 400 years or so from the overcrowded cemeteries that covered Paris. This was done for a number of different reasons, the least of which was to prevent the spread of disease.
My daughter and I took the Le Open tour bus line that stopped close to our hotel and had to make a connection to one of the other lines to arrive at our destination. On paper it looked and sounded like a good idea, however in actual fact it took about 2 hours to get to the entrance of the Catacombs. On the bright side it was a nice day, and the sun was out …and so were the tourists.
When we arrived at the Catacombs we discovered that there was a 2 ½ hour wait to get in. So a word of advice, if you don’t want to stand in a line prepare to move before 9 am. She made the decision to stay and wait in the line because of the time we had already invested in getting there. We waited in line and avoided the water sellers (that is another post ) and made our way into the Catacombs.
The catacombs are not suitable place for anyone that has any type of mobility problems. Any one that needs a cane, walker, or any other physical aid should not even bother attempting this. I give the same advice for small children in strollers, or not, this should not be attempted.
On the Surface, Paris is a city of many sites and sounds, statues and bridges covered in gold. There are museums filled with artwork that are second to none. The streets are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. However down below you literally see that Paris is built on the bones of the dead. Paris is not only built on the bones of its former citizens but also on the bones of the old city. Row upon row of neatly stacked bones and skulls. Side by side they lay, Aristocrats, writers, knights, laborers trades men and women all neatly packed. Layers of society that would have never met in life, lay mingled together in death for eternity.
The tour itself was about 2 hours long with an English speaking guide. The cost of the tour was 10.00 euro for adults and 8.00 euros for teens under 18. They allow only 200 people into the catacombs at a time. It is quite cool down there, so if you plan on going, bring a light jacket or sweater.
There are a few different points of interest along the way. The tour covers topics dating as far back as Roman times, the Middle ages, the French Revolution, WWII and right up until today. When the tour is over there is a crazy set of winding stairs that deposits you across the street from, none other than the Catacombs gift shop. Also a word to the wise, the exit is difficult to find so if you are having someone meet you at the end of the tour it would be wise to have a pre-planned meeting point, because the tour doesn’t end in the same place it starts.
I’m not sure If I would ever venture into the catacombs again. I mean those that have passed on should be left in peace. However, to get a true sense of Paris and the contrasts and Catastrophes that go in to creating such a place, it was worth the time and effort that was put in to the undertaking.