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Creepy Catacombs of Paris

As we celebrate or will be scared to celebrate Halloween this year, we look at the spookiest place in Paris. Though it might be creepy at first, the Catacombs of Paris give you a sense of history and how it is like for the dead in Paris. Stumbling at its entrance near the Notre Dame, the Catacombs are a famous underground ossuary located near the Denfert-Rochereau station of the Paris Métro.

Set up in a renovated section of the extensive network of the Parisian subterranean tunnels and caverns towards the end of the 18th century, it became a secret tourist attraction in the early 19th century and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867. Following an incident of vandalism, they were closed to the public until September, 2009.

Sending chills down your spine, it might stink a bit when you venture into the depths of the dead but the artistic intricacies of the passages of the Catacombs take you to a bygone era. The official name for the catacombs is l’Ossuaire Municipal.

This cemetery covers a portion of Paris’ former mines near the Left Bank’s Place Denfert-Rochereau, in a location that was just outside the city gates before Paris expanded in 1860. Even though this cemetery encompasses just a tiny section of underground tunnels comprising “les carrières de Paris” (“the quarries of Paris”), Parisians today refer to the entire network as “the catacombs”.

As history records, most of Paris’s larger churches once had their own cemeteries, but city growth and generations of dead began to overwhelm them. From the late 17th century, Paris’ largest Les Innocents cemetery (near the Les Halles district in the middle of the city) was saturated to a point where its neighbours were suffering from disease, due to contamination caused by improper burials, open mass graves, and earth charged with decomposing organic matter.

After almost a century of ineffective decrees condemning the cemetery, it was finally decided to create three new large-scale suburban cemeteries and to condemn all existing within the city limits; the remains of all condemned cemeteries would be moved discreetly to a renovated section of Paris’s abandoned quarries.

The use of the depleted quarries for the storage of bones, based on the idea of Police Lieutenant General Alexandre Lenoir, was established in 1786 by his successor, M. Thiroux de Crosne, under the direction of Charles Axel Guillaumot, Inspector General of Quarries, and following him, by Louis-tienne Héricart de Thury. Remains from the cemetery of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs were among the first to be moved. Bodies of the dead from the riots in the Place de Grève, the Hotel de Brienne, and Rue Meslee were put in the catacombs on 28 and 29 August 1788.

Also, be prepared to check out the Catacombs of Paris Museum also known as the cemetery of Innocent (close to Saint-Eustace, in the district of the “Halles”) which had been used during nearly ten centuries and had become the origin of infection for all the inhabitants of the district. Old Quarries were selected to deposit Parisian bones; Paris indeed had just created the General Inspection of the Quarries charged of the consolidation of the public highways undermined by the Quarries.

The Quarries “of Tombe-Issoire” were the object of work including masonry and consolidations of galleries, and by the digging of a flanked staircase.

With Halloween around the corner, you can get ideas from the Catacombs where the ‘Bone Pile’ lies where the walls are covered in graffiti dating from the eighteenth century onwards. With scary skulls lined along the walls, and passages where ghosts reside, your next Halloween theme party could do with a French touch to it. So if you want to jump out of your skin, the Catacombs of Paris are in!

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