The Paris Catacombs
Paris, France. The most romantic city in the world and a beautiful cloak to the death burrowed deep within its bowels. Just below the streets of Paris lies a dark, hidden tunnel system and ossuary displaying the remains of some 6 million dead Parisians. The Paris Catacombs.
For a long time Paris has been a popular destination. The city grew so rapidly it struggled to deal with death and by the 17th century its cemeteries were inundated with bodies and begun to overflow. The issue grew to become a genuine health concern and caused an influx of complaints from residents and businesses about the smell of rotting flesh in the air. After flooding caused a wall to break in Les Innocents (Paris’ largest cemetery), allowing bodies to spill onto the street, action was finally taken to resolve the corpse crisis.
In 1786 the go ahead to exhume and relocate the cemeteries of Paris was declared. For 12 years the remains of approximately 6 million people were dug up and moved to abandoned ancient stone mining networks underneath the city. Some of the bones even date to being 1200 years old. Initially the bones transported were left unorganized. Later renovations in 1810 set out to categorize the remains and stack skulls and femurs into the patterns that can be seen today.
A small section of the catacombs is safe and accessible to tourists, although there is rumored to be over 200 miles of unchartered tunnels below Paris. Most of these areas are illegal to enter, heavily patrolled by police and hidden entrances are actively sought out and closed up.
The Paris Catacombs are a fascinating and spooky place to enter. It is said that the Gates of Hell exist in the underground tunnel network and those who loose their way may be unlucky enough to stumble upon them.
Spooky Tales From The Paris Catacombs
Entering the unchartered sections of the Paris Catacombs is extremely dangerous. The vast network of tunnels is unmapped, maze-like, lightless, flooded and cold. Danger of becoming disoriented or lost is high and an entrance used for access is left vulnerable to sealing whilst inside the Catacombs, leaving visitors open to a chance of being trapped underground. For a select few known as Cataphiles, the rush and adventure of entering these forbidden chambers has become an obsession.
In 2010, a Cataphile was exploring deep chambers of the underground system and came across a discarded handheld video camera. He took the camera and passed it onto a filmmaker after discovering recorded footage on the tape within. Whilst the origin and legitimacy of the footage is unknown and questioned, what was recorded on the tape is truly disturbing. The tape shows a solo man wandering through and exploring what appears to be very deep caverns within the Catacombs. Suddenly, the man becomes spooked by something unknown, drops his camera to the floor and is seen running off into complete darkness. The camera continues to roll until the tape runs out. No one is quite sure what happened to this man. The tape may have been a hoax but some believe that the man was driven to insanity after being lost in the tunnels and surely died down there. Others believe he found the Gates of Hell and crossed over.
Whether this footage is real or not, actual cases of people being lost within the confines of the Catacombs have been documented. The terrifying story of two young teenagers who spent three days in the Catacomb’s complete darkness before being found and saved by search dogs is one example. There’s a real possibility for explorers to become lost in the Catacomb’s darkness, never to re-surface.
Thankfully, those who take the perilous trek through the lost areas of the Catacombs have a ghostly protector looking out for them. On the 3rd of November 1973 a man named Philibert Aspairt lost his life in the Paris Catacombs. He was a doorman for a local hospital and chose to enter a hospital entranceway to the Catacombs, searching for a secret stash of liquor. Although Aspairt’s exact cause of death isn’t known, it is thought he made his journey with just one candle, eventually got lost and died along with the light from his candle’s wick. Aspairt was found 11 years after his death and identified by the set of keys lying beside him. He was buried in the very tomb he was discovered.
Aside from protecting Cataphiles from harm, it is told that Aspairt’s spirit becomes active each year on the anniversary of his death. Wandering the Catacombs, blowing out candles and whispering into the ears of tourists.
Local legends have also spread more ominous rumors of Catacomb activity. Some believe that dark ceremonies have been performed within the depths of the Catacombs. These include human sacrifice and rituals performed on cadavers stolen from local morgues. Further ghostly activity is also frequently reported by visitors who describe disembodied voices and wails. These are believed to resonate from trapped confused spirits, whose bodies were dug up and moved underground.
Visiting The Catacombs of Paris
Still game enough to enter the Catacombs of Paris? You’ll find an official entry at 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris.
My best advice is to arrive early before the official opening time of the Catacombs. This attraction can get crowded during peak season and the line moves incredibly slow. Entry into the Catacombs is restricted to 200 people at a time. This is great when one is within the attraction, yet doesn’t allow the line to move rapidly.
You will descend 130 steps down into the Catacombs to walk through 1.5km of the tunnels, before climbing 63 stairs back to the surface of Paris. The tour takes 45 minutes or longer depending on the interest of the visitor. It is particularly cold underground, so it pays to be prepared.
Before entering, official warnings are posted stating: ‘The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition and young children’. You will be deep underground for an extended period of time, walking through partial darkness, in a confined space through tunnels and ossuaries with many human remains within reach.
What is fascinating to some is frightening to others.
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Thanks for reading!