Museum Monday in Paris
This week it’s all about bones and the creepy underground Catacombs underneath Paris.
Warning: The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition and young children.
You enter from 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, well actually you wait in line for about 30 minutes before entering the dank, dimly lit entryway. After passing through the turnstile it’s down the circular 130 steps before you reach the bottom where a small exhibit with signs and pictures tells you about the history of the Catacombs.
The Catacombs were created as an ossuary (a place or receptacle for the bones of the dead.) in 1780 when Paris’ largest cemetery, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents was closed, the neighbors were complaining the bodies were not buried properly…whew, the smell. So, they closed the cemetery and relocated all the bones in the old disused limestone quarry. Over the next few years other cemeteries were emptied out and the Catacombs became the final resting place for all those poor souls bones.
After walking for what seems like an eternity in dark narrow corridors you finally come upon the entrance to the Catacombs where a sign says, “Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort” (Stop! This is the empire of death!) As you step inside you are surrounded by the bones of some six million Parisians, arranged in piles and stacks of skulls, femurs, and various short and long bones. And behind those bones are hundreds more stacked on top of one another. They form a creepy yet decorative walkway through the Catacombs. Signs every so often tell you what cemetery they were taken from. When they first began putting the bones in the quarry, they just threw them in and ran off as fast as they could. Later someone started to organize the bones and create what you see today: a labyrinth of walkways lined on either side with bones.
One of the Quarry workers by the name of Décure sculpted small castles and buildings into the limestone, every so often you come across an amazing sculpture surrounded by all the bones…it kind of breaks up the horror of it all.
After walking through all those dead peoples remains you walk back up to street level, this time only 83 steps, gulping as the fresh air hits you glad you are one of the living, walking, breathing on this earth for just awhile longer.