Buried underneath the crowds of Parisians sipping on espresso in neighborhood cafés are miles and miles of tunnels. In the 14th century, the Parisians mined for valuable stones under their very feet, but by the 18th century these underground quarries had long since been forgotten.
As the tunnels lay empty there was a new problem above ground. The Cemetary of Innocents had been in use for nearly ten centuries. Obviously, over this amount of time overcrowding became an issue as much for the cemetery as for the health of the locals who lived around it. In 1785, the city shut the Cemetary down and found a new use for the long abandoned quarries- a new kind of graveyard, now know as the Paris Catacombs.
The bodies were always moved at night- carts of bones covered in black veils, priests singing service to the dead along the way. In all, there’s six to seven million people stacked under the streets of Paris. Artfully arranged five or six feet tall with rows of skulls in between more and more bones. And more spectacularly, since the early 1800’s, it’s been open to the eyes of the public.
We took the walk, eyes wide. Here’s what we saw.
Translation: Stop! This is the Empire of Death.
The Paris Catacombs can be found in Square Claude-Nicolas-Ledoux in the 14th arrondissement. It is open daily from 10 – 5 (with last entry at 4) except for Mondays and public holidays. It’s 130 steps down to the 2km long walk and 83 steps back up. €8 entry.