Paris is for lovers... of skeletons
January 15, 2003 10:34 PM   Subscribe

The catacombs of Paris are an immense maze of tunnels dug under the city. In 1786, all the bodies from Cimetiere des Innocents were exhumed and moved into the tunnels. A sign above the door reads: Stop! Here is the empire of the dead... For a significantly less creepy (and infinitely cool) city under the city experience, check out the Seattle Underground tour.
posted by jonson (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The main site from the first link has a lot of interesting photos as well. Nice links.

frist psot!
posted by hama7 at 1:53 AM on January 16, 2003

I wonder if there's an overhead/blueprint type map?

As a D&D player, this really appeals to me. Cool link :).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:01 AM on January 16, 2003

As a D&D player, this really appeals to me. Cool link :).

Of course, the Lich Lord at the bottom of the tunnel system is a bit of a deterrent for tourists.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:13 AM on January 16, 2003

Awesome, if a bit macabre. It is a pity the photos are not more, um, detailed though.
posted by dg at 5:24 AM on January 16, 2003

I went walking through these a few years ago, the disturbing thing was how quickly one became accustomed to walking through tunnels made of formerly living people. I thought I might get claustrophobic or otherwise freak out, but shortly I got used to the environment and began appreciating the pleasing geometric patterns.
posted by jeremias at 5:36 AM on January 16, 2003

Felix Nadar dans les catacombes (found here).
posted by 111 at 5:53 AM on January 16, 2003

While you're down there, check out the Paris Sewer Museum. Apparently there are others in Brussels, Vienna, and New Delhi.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:08 AM on January 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

Check out the Tunnels of Moose Jaw and the Al Capone Connection.
posted by Mondo at 7:28 AM on January 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

Morbid Fascination about sums up my reaction. Thanks, jonson!
posted by Shane at 7:58 AM on January 16, 2003

The Capuchin Crypt in Rome is the coolest and creepiest place I've ever been in my life. It contains the "artfully arranged" bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks and dirt brought back from Palestine during the Crusades.
posted by elvissinatra at 8:01 AM on January 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

Is this where Paris gets it's ...ahem... unique smell from?
posted by nofundy at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2003

I also visited the catacombs a few years back, and the thing I remember most clearly is that it took DAYS for the accumulated bone dust which had adhered to my shoes to come off.
posted by 40 Watt at 8:21 AM on January 16, 2003

elvissinatra - thanks for the link. Oddly, the clean, well lightedness of the Roman crypt somehow out-creeps even the dank underground of the Parisian one. It's almost reverent, the way the bones are arranged around the bowing monks. Crazy Italians!
posted by jonson at 9:00 AM on January 16, 2003

Is this where Paris gets it's ...ahem... unique smell from?

You know, I've noticed that the new metro line smells like a cat's litter box.
posted by Dick Paris at 9:53 AM on January 16, 2003

And there are the catacombs of the Lavra in Kiev:
It was not long before I began to feel very encased and closed in, as the heavy, dark stone walls seemed to confine me and the air became more concentrated and stale.   Breathing seemed difficult.  Although nowadays some inadequate lighting is in place, it was still quite dark. Soon I was amazed to discover that I was sharing the narrow passageway with open coffins containing the mummified remains of ancient Christians. Their bodies were each covered with a faded fabric covering. Another ornate cloth covered each face. A few of the mummies wore the crowns of high church officials on their heads. The hands lay outside the coverings. The parched skin looked like fine, brown leather covering the bones. We were told that the composition of the stone is porous and therefore absorbed the moisture from the bodies and left the remains in a petrified condition, much like happens to bodies in the desert.  It gives one a very eerie feeling.
I've been there myself, and ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you it does indeed give one a very eerie feeling.
posted by languagehat at 9:59 AM on January 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

The only thing that is missing LH is: "And then out of the corner of my eye I saw something -- not moving, yet not still either..."
posted by Dick Paris at 10:14 AM on January 16, 2003

The catacombes pictured in the link are the tourist ones I believe. There are 300 km (!) of underground caverns in Paris, 99% of which are not sanctioned for public access. The entrances are hidden, the tunnels dangerous. Much of the distance are ancient quarries from whence the magnificent cathedrals and buildings of Paris were built. Further, a lot of them were repurposed as bomb shelters in WWI and WWII. Now, all manner of strange people must use them... but for what?!

I am SO intrigued by these tunnels. I've been a spelunker since I was 6... something about secret passages... This article prompted me to find out more for my upcoming trip to Paris. I've found a ton of maps and photos, but I'm still looking for a guide! Anybody know more about the Les Catacombes du Paris and want to help me navigate them in Mid-April?
posted by maniactown at 10:32 AM on January 16, 2003

The most extensive book ever written on underground Paris is Paris Souterrain by Emile Gérards and Charles Pomerol. Filled with maps, charts, geological information, and history, it covers the earth underneath Paris since before mankind. It's huge: more than 600 pages.

Also worth mentioning, Recueil de pièces manuscrites relatives à l'histoire des carrières de Paris aux XVIIe & XVIIIe siècles , which in English is Collection of Records Relating to the History of the Quarries of Paris in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:47 AM on January 16, 2003

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