Tipped to be one of Paris’s most iconic historic attractions the Catacombes are both an intriguing and peculiar point of interest buried deep within the City of Lights. A stark contrast to the glimmering city renowned the world over for its exquisite architecture and breathtaking boulevards. The labyrinth underneath contains human remains from centuries past arranged in lines and heaps in a system of tunnels that are anything but romantic. Having shifted the exhumed remains of Paris’ overcrowded cemeteries to the city’s underground back in 1810 The Catacombes now serves as the eerie resting place of more than six million French citizens whose bones line the hallways of the 18m long space.
Located in Denfert-Rochereau this unlikely tourist attraction has been welcoming visitors since 1874 and is counted among Paris’ must-see highlights to this day. Entered from the western pavilion of the city’s Barrière d’Enfer gate visitors to The Catacomes must travel down a flight of narrow stone stairs that descend 19m beneath the surface to reach the famed attractions immersed in complete darkness before coming across the sculptural representation of the Port Mahon Fort. Next visitors will encounter the stone entrance to the ossuary which is inscribed with the cryptic words “‘Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death” in French. What follows are hallways, tunnels and corridors lined with neatly arranged bones and human skulls that stare vacantly in quirkily designed piles or arrangements that are nothing less than artistic in form. Other landmarks that were built during the tunnels’ mining past also decorate the path and the La Samaritaine fountain is one such monument. Rusty iron gates are also found at various intervals blocking visitors from wandering off in to unsafe and dilapidated areas in the network.
Some of the historic remains gracing the Catacomes bones collection include those of the deceased from the Parisian riots in Rue Meslée, Hôtel de Brienne and Place de Grève, back in the 17th century. The tomb of Philibert Aspairt is also available for viewing in the Catacomes which also feature graffiti dating back to the 18th century and stretching forward to modern times. Having served as the setting for several scenes in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables the locale famously housed members of the French resistance as well as German soldiers during the Second World War.
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