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Catacombs, Paris, France

Empire of death - this is how the catacombs are called on the granite plate hung on the entrance. The catacombs are connected with the history of Paris: stones for construction of many historical buildings were delivered from this stone quarry (Louvre, Notre dame de Paris, Saint Chepelle etc.). At that time the catacombs were actually out of the city frontier. However Paris expanded very fast and soon the catacombs appeared to be within the city, and many buildings were built above big underground holes.

The tunnels changed their "mission" in time: in the beginning of 18th century the death rate increased in Paris. The plague epidemic (1418), Massacre of St. Bartholomew (1572) also played big role in that: the city cemeteries soon were "overloaded". In 1785 the governmental council decided to move the Cemetery of Innocents into former stone quarry Tombe-Issoire. The new "cemetery" was to be decorated with all appropriate Christian attributes. This is where the new tradition came from. It may sound weird, but even many noblemen were buried here – Louis XIV's ministers Fouquet and Colbert, Robespierre, famous taleteller Charles Perrault. According to non-official statements there are nearly 6 million people buried in the catacombs. The ceiling and the walls were laid using bones and skulls. By the way the social status of the dead didn’t actually matter: an aristocrat's skull could be easily found next to the skull of a plain worker.

The underground galleries are situated on the depth of 20 meters. The signs of the quarry works carried out here are still visible. You can even see the "black line": it is a dug line on the wall that indicated the way out when there was no electricity. Passing through tunnels you will appear in a broad room, "atelier", where the main quarry works were carried out. Once there used be sculptures and bas-reliefs, but the time and the "black archeologists" didn't give them a chance to survive. The total length of the catacombs is 300 km, however only some 2 km are available for visitors. Since 1814 the catacombs have got other forms of usage: champignons are farmed here, beer and wine are kept, and also small cafes are opened for the lovers of exotics.

The entrance of the catacombs is from the Denfert-Rochereau square, and it is always open for visitors.

By Sona Gasparian,

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