Location: Place Denfert-Rochereau, Paris, France.
Ticket Price: 25 Euros/-
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word cemetery?
A grassy land lined with named and unnamed tombstones? A huge gate which stands as a wall between the living and the dead? An eerie night with a silhouette of a wolf howling against the moon?
Parisians, it seems, have their own outlandish meaning of a cemetery.
The Paris Catacombs (or Les Catacombes) are a small part of the vast underground tunnel system of Paris which hold the remains of over 6 million Parisians. This strange yet intriguing spot in Paris came into being when the city officials were faced with two problems - an overflow of cemeteries and a series of cave-ins during the mid-1700s. It was then decided that the skeletal remains of the dead civilians would be transferred to an intricate tunnel system, which are now known as the Paris Catacombs.
The passage-way which holds the skeletons is 800 metres long. Before the Empire De La Mort (Empire of the dead) starts, there is at least a 100 metres of narrow tunnel you have to walk through. To reach to the entrance of the main attraction, you have to go down 136 steps and to come back up, you have to climb 84 steps.
The Paris Catacombs have been a tourist attraction since the late 1800s. We can say that, as a continuous black line goes through the entire ceiling. The black line was formed by the fire from the torches of the people who used to visit the place back then.
The metro lines of Paris run above the Catacombs, meaning that the attraction is way deep into the ground. The entry to the catacombs is in the western pavilion of the former Barrière d'Enfer city gate. The part where the actual tunnel of the skeletons starts is around 6ft in height and is quite cramped. The entire place gives out eerie vibes and one might also feel a bit claustrophobic. Some passageways are closed, probably because they are unrenovated or are not in a good enough condition for visitors to take tours.
After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channeling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France's Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ("Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead").
The bones are carefully arranged and some are even artistically arranged in the shape of a heart, or a huge keg. Along the way, one would find many other "monuments" or various structures created in the years before the catacombs were renovated.
If you find yourself in Paris, this attraction is a must visit as there is no such thing anywhere else in the world. Just remember - you can't touch the skeletons or use flash inside the tunnels.
A jump into the darkness won't hurt when you're in the Catacombs!