For those of you who have ever been curious about the Catacombs in Paris, this Halloween post may satisfy that curiosity until you get there in person. I want to warn you that the following photographs are graphic and for mature audiences only. Do not look for a recipe at the end of this post because that in my opinion would be in poor taste in more ways than one (and you have already made your Halloween preparations). When Halloween is over, this post will be removed from the home page and “buried” in the France section of this blog. Recipes and French travel sites, above ground, to resume comme d’habitude (as usual) thereafter.
For this Halloween day, let’s venture out of the kitchen. Venez avec moi (come with me) to the Catacombs in Paris (which, by the way, is now considered a museum).
Happy Halloween (and “bone” appétit) !
In the twenty something years I have traveled to Paris I never visited the Catacombs. First, it seemed morbid. Second, it is underground, far underground, and am not fond of closed-in spaces. Third, the line to enter is always long and I am more impatient then I was ever curious.
Then I had children and the children grew. The children thought it would be “cool” and asked to go. That is how I ended up underneath Paris in the Catacombs.
Led by my much braver daughters, we descended 19 meters down below the ground on a narrow, spiral stone stairwell to a cold, damp, quiet place where the silence was broken only by occasional drips of water from the stone ceiling and the gasps of other guests.
This is what we saw. This is how the Catacombs came to be.
As Paris grew over the centuries, cemeteries which were once on the outskirts of the city, were now in the center of Paris. This posed a number of problems.
Meanwhile, there were a number of abandoned quarries (the limestone was removed to build the Paris we see today). While there are quarries underneath much of Paris, grand réseau sud refers to the abandoned mines underneath the 5, 6, 14 and 15 arrondissements in Paris (all in the Left Bank).
While the mines were being renovated and connected, the overused and disease-ridden cemeteries in Paris (which now occupied central Paris not the out-skirts) were being closed.
In 1786, the remains were removed and placed in the mines. It took two years, under the cover of night, to remove long-passed Parisans from their resting places to a more permanent resting place (that was safer and healthier for living Parisians). That place would be a 1.1 mile ossuary in some of grand réseau sud.
Holy Innocents’ Cemetery (Cimetière des Innocents) was one of the cemeteries that was removed in the 18th century (in reality, the cemetery had become also a site for mass graves due to a lack of space). Once the remains were removed, the Cemetery was turned into a market. Today, it is a square (see above). The Fountain of Innocents (Fontaine des Innocents) which laid on the edge of the cemetery is still there (although it was disassembled and reassembled to build the square). I have traversed this square so many times and taken photographs of the fountain, but only recently learned the history.
Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury (who at the time was the the general inspector of mines) is responsible for re-arranging the bones, instructing them to be stacked with precision creating the artisitic walls you see now.
He also instructed any headstones, tablets, and other items in the cemeteries to be used as decor.
If you want to visit the Catacombs in Paris, be the first to arrive. We arrived at 9 a.m. and still had to wait at least an hour. If you do not arrive until lunch, you likely will not be permitted to enter that day as only a certain number of people can visit the Catacombs at one time.
To get to the Catacombs, take the Metro lines 4 or 6 to the Denfert-Rochereau stop in Montparnasse. The square at this stop, and which is near the entrance to the Catacombs, is historically significant in its own right.
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75014 Paris, France
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