This subterranean world, while eerie, provides a profound meditation on life, death, and the inexorable march of time…
Paris, often referred to as “The City of Light”, is renowned for its grand boulevards, historic monuments, and romantic ambiance. However, beneath its elegant Haussmannian facades lies a darker, mysterious world: the Catacombs of Paris. This intricate network of tunnels and chambers offers a unique glimpse into the city’s past, and its relationship with life, death, and the passage of time.
The Catacombs of Paris, or “Les Catacombes,” trace their origin to the late 18th century. Paris was grappling with overflowing cemeteries, and the decaying remains posed a significant health hazard. The solution? Old limestone quarries, which were present beneath the city, were transformed into an ossuary to house the remains. Beginning in 1786, bones from the overflowing cemeteries were methodically transferred to this underground sanctuary.
A Macabre Attraction
Spanning over 200 miles, but with only a small section open to the public, the Catacombs have become one of Paris’ most sought-after attractions. As visitors descend the narrow spiral staircase, they’re met with the haunting inscription: “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort” (Stop, this is the empire of Death). What follows is a winding journey through dimly lit tunnels, lined with neatly stacked skulls and femurs. These remains serve as a stark reminder of the transience of life.
Art and Inscriptions
The Catacombs are not just a repository of bones. Throughout the tunnels, visitors can find poetic inscriptions, sculptures, and even a few “morts” (dead) with particularly interesting stories. One such sculpture is the “Barrière de l’Enfer” (Barrier of Hell), carved by a quarryman named Décure. The walls also bear inscriptions, often poetic, reflecting musings on death and the afterlife.