The catacombs are by far one of the most underrated spots to check out when you are in Paris. If you have a thing for dark caves, history and weird phenomenons this is definitely the attraction for you.
When traveling Joey and I like to see some of the classical landmarks but we also like to stray off the beaten path. The first time I had heard of the catacombs of Paris it was during my childhood watching the animated movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” I never actually thought the catacombs existed. http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/” target=”_blank”>Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across them while doing our trip planning.
The catacombs are a literal bone graveyard found under Paris. This network of caves and tunnels created in 1785, stretches for miles under the city. Following a disease outbreak in Paris from improper burial of dead corpses, the catacombs were designed as a respectful place to relocate the deceased in an attempt to control the infection. The remains of over six million people from 5 major surrounding graveyards can be found in these underground tunnels that over the years have been turned into a historic museum.
The morning we decided to visit the catacombs the weather was sweltering hot. It had been like that all week, I think we were witnessing the last big heat wave of the summer. Not as well known as some of the other attractions, the catacombs of Paris were not marked on the tourist maps we picked up at the train station and hostel. We had to ask around a little to find the entrance. It wasn’t hard to locate the entrance to the catacombs once we knew were we where going, though the little hole in the wall entrance that might have gone unnoticed had it not been for hundreds of tourists queued along the sidewalk. The line snaked around the block and we grumpily made our way to the back. After having no line up to climb the Eiffel tower, this seemed like an outrage. It was a long wait, but after having toured the catacombs, it was well worth it.
As we moved forward in line, a local street artist had a booth set up on the sidewalk. This talented gentleman busied himself making silhouette cutouts of the waiting tourist as they passed by in the line. It was a no-brainer, we paid him €2.00 each to do the same for us. After only about five minutes to study and cut and exact replica of our faces, we had a memorable piece of artwork from the streets of France.
After paying our entrance fee of €12.00 and getting a stern warning not to disturb or steal anything, we descended the stairs into the uncanny darkness of the catacombs. As soon as we reached the bottom, I could sense the chilly feel of death in the air. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the underground, we made our way towards the main crypt. The sand and stone walls guided us to the crypt entrance and once through the archway the stone walls turned to bone walls. In a hushed silence Joey and I walked looking at the bones making up the walls of the catacombs with dropped jaws. Each wall along the pathway had been carefully constructed specifically using tibia, femur and humerus bones with a row of deformed and decrepit skulls in the middle and at the top of the wall. It was positively morbid. Having 206 bones in the human body I knew there was going to be bones in the catacombs, but I hadn’t wrapped my head around what 206 bones times six million people would look like. Apart from the narrow walkway that visitors could wander through the underground sea of bones filled the tunnels as far as my eyes could see.
While walking through the bone graveyard, we made friends with one of the security guards that was monitoring a section of the tomb. He taught us all about the human skull and even showed us a baby skull, the top of the head still open from birth. On our way out of the catacombs, two security guards stood at the door monitoring everyone leaving; beside them was a table filled with skulls, small bones and teeth, that had been found on people as they left the catacombs. Apparently picture memories are not enough these days, visitors feel the need to destroy and steal all for a keepsake.
It’s saddening that tourists cannot leave such a mysterious place in the shape they found it in, for others to come and appreciate just as they have.
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