Ah sweet Paris! Home to the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, old romantic streets and cafes… But wait, it’s Halloween season so let us leave these places for another post. This time we will focus on something also found in Paris but not sweet at all. You might not know it but under the city, there is another city. Called “The Empire of the Dead”. This Paris catacomb is one of the largest and scariest catacombs in the world and to show you how scary this place can be, we bring you these 25 spooky pictures of the Parisian Catacombs, the world’s largest necropolis.
To get to the catacombs, visitors are advised to take the metro and get off at the Denfert Rocherea station. At the entrance to the catacombs, there is a gate with a sign saying “Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort“ which means "Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death".
It is usual to wait for up to 4 hours to get in because visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time and there are hundreds of them cueing at the entrance most of the time.
If the ominous sign and long cue is not discouraging enough, you have to walk down 130 steps 60 feet deep into the Parisian underground.
Narrow and slippery stone passages filled with musty, humid air will get you to the beginning of what definitely will be one of the scariest tours of your life.
From now on, it´s just you, dark spooky tunnels and never-ending masses of bones. The tour takes approximately 45 minutes and covers just a tiny 1.2 mile-long fragment of the catacombs.
Originally, the catacombs served as tunnels and caverns for stone mining in Roman times.
The stone mining continued without any limitations until the 15th century when the severely undermined city streets began to collapse and crumble.
At that time, nobody knew how long the tunnels were and where they led. Therefore, people started to map the labyrinth out and support the shafts. It still hasn't been mapped out completely but today, we know the catacombs are about 200 miles long.
In the 18th century, Paris was facing a problem with overcrowded cemeteries. Plague and other epidemics had been decimating the city population and there was no more place to deposit the remains of the dead.
As a solution of this troublesome problem, the king ordered to move the remains from all the Parisian cemeteries to the catacombs. It took years to accomplish.
Soon after, some parts of the catacombs were opened to the public. Decorated with bones, these places became a popular amusement spot for then aristocracy. Many famous people including Napoleon Bonaparte and Otto von Bismarck visited the catacombs at that time.
Today, the catacombs house remains of more than 6 million (some sources say even 7 million) dead people.
People who have been exploring the uncharted areas of the catacombs are known as “Les Cataphiles” meaning “the underground lovers”.
There are dozens of entrances to the catacombs but most of them have been bricked up. Tourists can get there only through the official one at the Place Denfert Rocherea.
The city centre is undermined to such an extent that only a few large buildings were built.
Some of the bone arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias.
During World War II, the tunnel system was also used by soldiers. German soldiers, for example, established an underground bunker in the catacombs below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th Parisian arrondissement.
Walking through so many human remains can be a very disturbing experience. Some tourists even claim that they felt the presence of the skulls actually staring at them.
Over the years, many people have gotten lost and died in the catacombs. One of the most famous stories is the one about a man called Philibert Aspairt who got lost in the catacombs in 1793 and was found dead 11 years later.
Sadly, when Philibert was discovered there wasn’t much left of him other than a skeleton holding a set of keys but perhaps the saddest part of the story is the fact he was just a few yards from the exit. He was buried at the place he was found and the Cataphiles come to pay their respect to his tomb.