THE CATACOMBS OF PARIS
While renowned for its beautiful architecture, Paris has a darker, hidden side. Running beneath the city is a secret accessible only to a few, but which haunts the nightmares of all who descend into its depths. For anyone brave enough to face their fears, Place Denfert-Rochereau awaits…
A network of tunnels has been carved underneath Paris, from which limestone was extracted in ancient times as a building material. Despite having lain abandoned for centuries, the tunnels are far from empty: in the 18th Century, due to overflowing cemeteries within the city, which resulted in a number of collapses due to the sheer weight of corpses, the decision was taken to move the bodies into a small part of the tunnel system, forming ossuaries which hold the bones of six million people.
Under the direction of Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, who had the idea to transform the jumbled piles of remains into a mausoleum-museum, some niches, such as the Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp, feature bones stacked in ordered patterns, most notably with hundreds of skulls lining the walls. Although the niches form only a small part of the tunnel network, Parisians refer to the entire system as the catacombs, and due to their presence below ground, tall structures cannot be built atop them, as their weight would collapse the tunnels.
Given their unsettling nature, the catacombs are a tourist attraction for anyone drawn to life’s creepy side. A number of films have been set in the catacombs, such as 2014’s As Above, So Below, a horror film where the tunnels are the entrance to Hell itself. Curiously, in 2004, the police discovered a fully-working movie theatre among the niches, with screens and even a bar and restaurant, but whoever set it up has never been found.