The Invisible City Beneath Paris
May 27, 2019 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Under the southern portion of the city exists its negative image: a network of more than two hundred miles of galleries, rooms, and chambers. Robert Macfarlane spends a couple of days and a few thousand words exploring the extensive catacombs of Paris for The New Yorker.
posted by hippybear (24 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
OK, that was terrifying.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:29 PM on May 27, 2019


Pictures! My unwise curiosity demands pictures!
posted by saturday_morning at 5:08 PM on May 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Love this, thank you. I could never explore something like this myself, feeling claustrophobic just reading about it, but the firsthand accounts are fascinating.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:31 PM on May 27, 2019


As a companion piece, can I recommend The Lizard, The Catacombs and The Clock, an all-time favourite piece of writing that delves far into both the catacombs themselves and the UrbEx pranksters that made headlines a few years ago for underground cinemas, mended clocks and so on.
One of the catacombs’ most notorious mischief-makers is Lézard Peint, the Painted Lizard, a “devil” with alleged fascist connections, who has been known to steal fellow cataphiles’ lights or to seal up their intended exits.

“What you are on the surface, you are underground,” Crato later says, sucking on a cigarette. “When you are a violent person, given to fighting—you’re the same below.” Scoundrels like Lézard aside, the cataphile community is civil. “In general we look out for each other,” BVH agrees. They share knowledge, lighters, cans of beer (never bottles, which are still heavy when empty). “People know that if they get too drunk or if they get hurt, it’ll be hard to get out.”

BVH and Crato’s first descents were similar—they saw a hole, or heard about a hole, and they entered. Telling me, BVH begins to cough. “Sorry,” he wheezes, “I still have dust in my throat.” On that first journey, he and his friends ran into some unlikely mentors—off-duty police officers who offered to give them a tour—“and then I spent the whole night underground.”
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


I lie flat, loop pack to foot, edge in head first. The clearance above is so tight that again I have to turn my skull sideways to proceed.

I should not have read this before bedtime.
posted by Kabanos at 6:10 PM on May 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Apropos of nothing, the acoustics in there are great, and my recording of tromping around in the wet gravel with its reverberations is one of my go-to samples for spectral manipulation.
posted by invitapriore at 6:25 PM on May 27, 2019 [12 favorites]


Thank you for this piece! A recommendation for a thriller/horror film that takes place in the Catacombs, "As Above, So Below". It's certainly not the best film but it will tap into the same vein as this.

Those who wish to see a rather strange take on urban underground, from Australia, should check out "The Tunnel", a 2011 found-footage horror filmed in the tunnels underneath Sydney.
posted by nfalkner at 6:44 PM on May 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Every night, for years, horse-drawn funerary wagons containing the bones of the disinterred dead, covered with heavy black cloths, preceded by torchbearers and followed by priests, who chanted the Mass of the Dead, clopped through the streets from the cemeteries to the Tombe-Issoire, where they disposed of their contents.
Whoa! Is there a cinematic reconstruction of these grim parades?
posted by moonmilk at 7:04 PM on May 27, 2019


Wow. That is so awesome
posted by nikaspark at 7:17 PM on May 27, 2019


As Above, So Below is my #1 movie that I would love to see remade with a better budget and prestige director. Such a great concept and it still managed to be a fun watch despite its shitty formulaic found footage horror framing. It's basically The Descent crossed with Tomb Raider, set in the catacombs.
posted by mannequito at 8:26 PM on May 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


That was very well-written.

I toured the catacombs with a friend more than a decade ago, and I loved them. I mean, a bone chapel! I've certainly never experienced anything comparable. But I also remember how relieved I was to be back outside. And I mean, I'm into spooky stuff. Even as a kid I was disappointed at the end of scary movies when the night would end and the sun came up. Not so in the catacombs, apparently. There was this feeling of steadily mounting dread: thousands of bones in every direction, tunnels leading off into darkness, water dripping everywhere. I was so happy to have seen it all, but I was very happy to leave.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:45 PM on May 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Also: I don’t know Paris very well, but this seems like it reflects a lot about what makes it such a great city. I can picture that scene in the flag room, and it’s great.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:17 PM on May 27, 2019


Odessa catacombs, mentioned in the article, previously.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:36 PM on May 27, 2019


I wonder why they use carbide lamps? Some kind of retro-fetish or is there some functionality that is better than LEDs?
posted by tavella at 9:51 PM on May 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hol-eeee shit. Chills! So very interesting, but you could not *pay* me to crawl through those little tunnels. Feeling grateful for my spacious bed right about now!
posted by sucre at 10:23 PM on May 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not long after the Berlin wall fell, my sister and I got invited to a party in Paris, which turned out to be a rave in the Paris underground. We were in a big area, not tight little tunnels, but still, one of the most memorable things I’ve done, tripping underground in a country where you don’t speak the language and have no idea how to get out. The 90s were weird.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 11:35 PM on May 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Spent a couple of nights there when we were kids; mostly remember finding some random x-rays, and a long trek to find the fabled “plage”. Adventurous though we felt, exiting (especially from unplanned manholes) always brought a rush of relief.
posted by progosk at 11:41 PM on May 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Instead of the multi-day hike, why don’t they descend via manhole? Does not make sense but must be a reason... Or via someone’s basement, or whatever...
posted by Meatbomb at 11:52 PM on May 27, 2019 [1 favorite]




Pertinent.
("A Three-day Expedition to Walk across Paris Entirely Underground." via Longreads.)
posted by From Bklyn at 4:53 AM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


SLYT: a carver discussed the use of both carbide and LED lights (basically carbide is better for illuminating he immediate area around you, LEDs are better for longer directional use).
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:13 AM on May 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Caver, that is.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:55 AM on May 28, 2019


If you like this, you might also enjoy Macfarlane's (upcoming) book, Underland.
posted by box at 9:43 AM on May 28, 2019


As a companion piece, can I recommend The Lizard, The Catacombs and The Clock, an all-time favourite piece of writing that delves far into both the catacombs themselves and the UrbEx pranksters that made headlines a few years ago for underground cinemas, mended clocks and so on.

previously, by metafilter's own Marquis. i originally joined this site to say how much i enjoyed this article
posted by JimBennett at 9:32 PM on May 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


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