While in Paris my wife and I decided to get in the spirit of Halloween by visiting the catacombs that litter the underground of the beautiful city. Being an aspiring horror writer I was attracted to the grim history, the dark tunnels and the macabre beauty of the remains within.
Origin of The Catacombs
Paris has been a prized destination since the 18th century. With a massive population filling the ever-expanding city its people were having a hard time properly storing the dead. The cemeteries were struggling to accommodate so many bodies they began causing a horrific stench and spreading diseases to anyone unfortunate enough to live nearby. At one point after a heavy rain bodies from a cemetery were literally overflowing as corpses began washing away.
To combat the problem city officials decided to use the old stone quarries that had been dug out to provide bricks to house the living to now house the dead in the empty space beneath the city. In the late 1700’s bodies were being relocated from the brimming cemeteries to the cold stone tunnels.
Six Million Bodies
You read that right, six million bodies are now located in the catacombs of Paris. The collection of bones can be large stacks sitting haphazardly in a pile or placed in meticulous patterns and designs. Peasants, French revolutionaries, plague victims, you name it and they’re probably buried there.
The Living Amongst The Dead
The six million bodies actually take up a small portion of the quarries beneath the city. The tunnel systems are massive and stretch for many miles, most of it uncharted territory. Numerous efforts to map it are underway and every so often fascinating stories of people either visiting or living in the catacombs hit the news.
During World War Two members of the French Resistance and Nazi forces were using the catacombs to carry out war efforts. It was discovered that the Nazi’s had actually built a bunker beneath the Lycee Montaigne high school.
The catacombs have become a notorious location for spelunkers, ghost hunters, fans of the movie As Above, So Below, homeless Parisians, wanted criminals and many other curious individuals. Airbnb even sponsored a publicity stunt giving customers the opportunity to spend a night in the Catacombs. Police in 2004 discovered a movie theater and restaurant fully equipped yet abandoned in one of the tunnels. Groups of people known as ‘cataphiles’ have been living and exploring the tunnels for years, their group remaining highly secretive and suspicious of outsiders.
And this is just what they’ve discovered, who knows what else has been found in the dark reaches of this grim place.
With all the talk of ancient bones, Nazi bunkers, criminal hideouts, and tunnel denizens it might surprise people to hear that the Catacombs can actually be quite romantic. While my wife and I were exploring the macabre tunnels during our tour we found a particular section that used death to portray beauty and love.
So for those looking to visit the city of love and romance, after you’ve had your fill of decadent restaurants, stunning vistas, fine music, and wonderful company; take a moment to bring your sweetheart into the dark and gloomy abyss below and amid the rotting bones of those long dead profess your undying love in one of the most romantic places on earth.
Author: Benjamin Baker
After serving abroad in a religious capacity for two years Ben has felt the pull to travel and explore ever since. This desire was further fueled by his wife Maddie and the two have traveled to many places over the last few years. Ben’s hope is that by sharing his knowledge and experiences obtained while traveling that others can improve their lives and the lives of others through travel. Check out additional articles written by Benjamin.