Below the streets of Paris in the Catacombs is an explorer’s wet dream. (Wet in that you’re between knee and ankle deep for hours on end.)
Starting in the late 1700s, officials in Paris were faced with the growing problem of overflowing cemeteries. In May 1780 a property adjoining a cemetery in the center of Paris had a nasty surprise. The wall of their basement collapsed and the bodies packed into the mass graves at the cemetery next door, overflowed into their basement.
A Parisian policeman who’d previously been tasked with starting the mine inspection service, suggested using the vast network of mines and quarries below the city to store the human remains. By re-purposing the quarries and mines of Paris as an ossuary, the Paris Catacombs began.
The first few years of operations saw the catacombs used as a bone dumping ground, but soon the head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service undertook renovations that would transform the underground caverns into a visitable mausoleum. However the ossuary is only a small part of the sprawling network of tunnels reffed to as the “Catacombs”.
Armed with energy drinks, snacks and torches we headed through abandoned subway lines to reach our entry to the Catacombs. That began a 12 hour trape through the vast network tunnels that serve as the final resting place of 6 million Parisians.
The catacombs are more than just a home to dead folk. It’s a home to statues carved out of the soft rock, cataphiles, miniature cities etched into the clay, dumped bicycles, telephone lines, glimpses up to the city above, and, if you know where to look, still a butt ton of bones…