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The Paris Catacombs

Nearly six million deceased people reside beneath Paris, which makes it one of the world’s largest graves. But, originally these people were not all buried here, so where did they come from? In November of 1785, The Cemetery of the Innocents (a near by cemetery used for ten centuries) was closed, and the contents needed to be removed because it was becoming a source of infection for inhabitants. It was decided that all of the city’s dead would be buried or brought to the disused limestone quarries which had recently been inspected. After nightfall from 1786 to 1788, the dead were transported from the cemetery to their new resting place beneath Paris. Each night there was a procession of priests who would sign a service for the dead… An eerie sight, if you ask me.

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Since their creation, the Paris Catacombs have raised interest including a couple of royal visitors: the future Charles X in 1787, Francis I (emperor of Austria) in 1814, and Napoleon III in 1860. In 2005, the Catacombs opened to the public, and so now anyone is able to visit the Catacombs. 

Visitor Information:
-Open Daily 10am to 8pm. Except Mondays and holidays. Last entrance is at 7pm.
-Address: 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy 75014 Paris (ie: Take the metro to Denfert-Rochereau, the bus to 36 or 38, or park at Boulevard Saint-Jacques).
-Maximum visitors at one time is 200, so at times there may be a wait to enter the Catacombs (go early in the day!)
It is about a 2km walk and takes about 45 minutes with a lot of stairs down at the beginning and a lot up at the end.
-The tour is not advisable for those with respiratory or heart issues, or those with a nervous disposition (you can imagine why)

Although the Catacomb is known for the insane amount of stacks of bones, there is more to be found deep beneath Paris. “The workshop” is a disused quarry feature. “The Port-Mahon corridor” contains sculptures by a quarryman who had fought in Louis XV’s army. “The quarryman’s footpath” is a small clear pool of water that was uncovered by the quarrymen. The water was later used to mix cement for the works of the Catacomb.

Then there is the entrance to the Catacombs. Within the catacombs there are various points of interest including plaques commemorating the fighting at the Réveillon factory on May 18th, 1789 and at the Tuileries on August 10th, 1792. Along with those killed in the massacres of 1792, those killed in these two key events in the French Revolution were the only ones to be buried directly in the catacombs. “The Crypt of the Passion” also holds a unique story. On April 2, 1897, a macabre clandestine concert was held in this room. The event was attended by scholars, scientists, and select wealthy. The employees that let them in that night were quickly fired.

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The tour is not for those afraid of the dark, the dead, or small spaces, but it is quite an interesting perspective on history in Paris. 

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