Saturday, 31 October 2015

My creepy visit to Les Catacombs, Paris


It's Halloween! What better to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year (I was a witch in a former life, I swear) than with a nice, creepy blog post! We had been to Paris about 5 years prior and had no idea then that the catacombs beneath the city even existed. This time around I was researching some more unusual places to visit and when I read about this it went to the tippy top of my list.

We had to get the Metro out to the south of the city as the entrance is a little out of the way, but it was really easy to find - I would recommend going at the beginning or end of the day as we arrived at about half 11 and there was a considerable queue. As the entrance and walkway down underground are tiny it takes a while for people to be let in and out. It was quite a cheap attraction, about 8 euros each, as in France if you have ID to prove you're under 25 and live in the EU you get reduced or free entry to places like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. We just showed our passports everywhere we went.



I thought it would be claustrophobic so I wasn't sure how I would get on, but the ceilings are deceptively high down there and some of the outlets are cavernous. If it wasn't for the dark and damp (although it's also fairly well lit as you're not permitted to use flash photography) I wouldn't have known how far underground we were. I felt absolutely fine.

A bit of fun history for you: The catacombs were formerly a very old (as in pre-12th Century) disused mine. In the 1700s a series of cave-in incidents led to them being rediscovered. They run for many kilometers (about 300 I think) with various pockets being connected by 'roads' underground. By the time they were discovered, Paris had a huge problem with overflowing cemeteries, some of which had mounds metres high full of the dead because there was nowhere else for them to go. As people had to live so closely to improperly buried corpses there were huge problems with disease, and an overwhelming smell of decomposing bodies. Yummo.



The ossuaries within the catacombs hold the bones of around six million people, making it the largest grave in the world. The bones are not arranged as whole skeletons but certain bones are grouped together and packed in so that they are structurally sound. They are however 'sort of' categorised as every so often a plaque detailing a hospital name, month and year is seen which indicates when these people's bones were brought down there. The final lot of bones was interred in 1860, and 7 years later the catacombs were open to the public.


If you go down with a guide, they will tell you all kinds of horror stories, but I was getting the heebie jeebies so we went it alone. It's very quiet down there, and you're so far underground that you can see layers of sediment in the walls from millions of years ago. The walls of bones go back meters and the ceiling drips with limestoney water. Despite it having a kind of deserted feel though you can see from the various signs and plaques, as well as intricate patterns put into the bone arrangements, that this is actually a project that was undertaken with great care and respect.

I would highly recommend a trip to the catacombs to anyone with a bit of a morbid fascination, but I think anyone would enjoy it. There were little kids in there who didn't seem scared but were just so fascinated.

Have you ever been anywhere as creepy as Les Catacombs?


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