Monday, March 19, 2012

Monster Monday: The Parisian Catacombs

Arrete! C'est ici L'Empire de la Mort -- "Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead."

Paris, France, considered the city of love and lights, has a macabre, dark side, literally underfoot. As with any ancient city, home to generation upon generation, one of the most challenging aspects of life is how to deal with the dead. Medieval Parisian cemeteries were literally bursting from the seams, bodies busting through walls and into the streets, the rotting corpses spreading disease -- something had to be done. It was decided that the network of abandoned limestone mines that the Romans had tunneled under the city would be filled -- with the dead. Cemeteries were emptied and bodies deposited in what is now known as the Parisian Catacombs.

Let’s be clear on this, we’re talking 6 million bodies. Piled high. Some of the bones displayed in intricate patterns; leg bones, arm bones, skulls with vacant, staring eye sockets. Others stacked so that visitors have to crawl over them to gain access to tunnels. This network of tunnels and caves is vast and the plans have been lost long ago. It is not known exactly how many, how far, or what they contain.

Along the tourist’s entry walls are quotes from French poets, hailing the Temple of the Dead, and the monster known as Death.

Today people flock to the catacombs, waiting hours to enter dim, narrow passageways that can only hold 200 people at a time. Stories abound – some have heard ghostly whispers, the cries of the dead, have seen flickering lights beckoning them to go down unexplored tunnels, or have felt an overwhelming sadness.

Survival tip: When visiting the catacombs, travel in pairs and don’t follow any flickering lights. You may be lost in the winding catacombs and join the empire of the dead before your time.

Here’s a video of one man’s tour:

Paris Catacombs from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.


  1. Why thanks, Matthew - still can't believe I was in Paris in June and DIDN'T get to go to the catacombs. Holiday fail!