It’s Only South Of The Gates Of Hell…
Ah Paris, the city of love! The first thoughts that come to mind range anywhere from the Eiffel Tower and baguettes to the beautiful stained glass of the Notre Dame Cathedral. But with all of the beauty and culture that surrounds the infamous city, what terrifying secret could be lurking in the shadows…or underground?
Housing the remains of roughly six million deceased Parisians, visitors of the catacombs travel through winding halls to see the skeletal structures lining the rocky walls. But how did all of these bones get there? The answer is actually quite simple; convenience!
The history of the catacombs dates back to 1130 with the Saint Innocents cemetery. Saint Innocents was the central burial ground in Paris and by the end of the same century had already started running into a huge problem of space. With the site being in the center of the city, expanding outwards unfortunately was not a viable option. So the curators looked to the sky for their solution and by the end of the 18th century the cemetery was a 2 meter (about 6.5 feet) mound of dirt with the bodies of the deceased nestled inside. Needless to say, this became a problem. Not only were the curators having to exhume the long since dead and bury them within the cemetery walls to make space for new bodies, but health and sanitary issues were starting to rise. The year 1780 proved to bring an end to the ongoing problems when the basement of a property adjoining the burial site collapsed. Saint Innocents cemetery was finally condemned in the late 18th century. Unfortunately, there was still the problem of what to do with the bodies.
At this time, Paris also had a series of mines that were being depleted and abandoned and Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir was put in charge of inspecting them. During the inspections, Lenoir had the idea of moving the bodies from the overcrowded cemetery to the mines and in 1785, work on transfers were underway and completed in 2 years time. However, it wasn’t until 1810 that the new repository went from being a disorganized pile of bones to the mausoleum tourists still flock to today.
The first public showings of the newly renovated catacombs began in 1814 with tours showing up only a few times a year. Guests travel down a spiral stairwell and are greeted with a sign reading Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort (“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”). Upon entering the vast halls and caverns of the catacombs, guests will see the bones of the deceased along the stone walls in various patterns and shapes varying from hearts to skulls arranged to spell “keg”. There are also monuments to the dead such as crosses and a fountain for baptizing.
The catacombs are still open to the public and you can visit their website here for more information and check out the small slideshow below.