When thinking of Paris, the city above ground, home to the Eiffel Tower, the Seine River, Notre Dame, and more typically come to mind. Underneath Paris lie two complex mazes – other cities in a way – one being the immense metro system, the other being the quarries, a system of underground tunnels and home to the Catacombs of Paris.
Today, I descended 130 steps down a spiral staircase to discover the catacombs, “the empire of the dead.” They were created at the end of the 18th century. Paris’ largest cemetery, Les Innocents, had long been overfilled with bodies and those who lived near the cemetery began to complain they were growing ill due to contamination from bodies that were not properly buried and (open) mass graves. On November 9, 1785 it was announced that bodies buried at Les Innocents Cemetery would be moved to create the Catacombs. Between 1786 and 1788 the tunnels were filled with bones from approximately six million people (from various cemeteries around Paris).
Everywhere I looked there was a story. Marks were on left the ceiling from the tools of the men who built the tunnels and graffiti from visitors dating back as far as the 18th century covered parts of the walls. It’s illegal to explore the hundreds of kilometers of the quarries closed off to the public, but glimpsing down a few of the dark tunnels there were bones as far as I could see.