Monday, 12th February 2018

Paris underground – The history of the Paris Catacombs

Did you know that the ‘world’s largest grave’ is situated beneath the city of Paris, holding the remains of more than 6 million people in a labyrinth of underground tunnels? Known as Catacombes de Paris (The Catacombs of Paris), this underground resting place was filled with remains when the graveyards in Paris became overfull. Bones were transported by way of a nightly precession for a two-year period in the late 18th century with more remains being added directly after death at later times right up to the mid 19th century. The final transfer of bones took place in 1859.

The tunnels were originally part of the quarries where stone had been excavated to build the city itself. The burial of the remains of so many not only aided the overflowing graveyards in Paris at that time, but they also helped with the collapsing of some of the tunnels.

The Catacombs of Paris are now a tourist attraction, managed by the City of Paris Museums. The ossuary resides 20 meters below ground where visitors can see a display of bones, morbidly on show and called the ‘tableau of death.’ Amongst the maze of tunnels there are also a number of moving and thought provoking poems, passages and quotes.

The tour of The Catacombs of Paris covers about 2 kilometers in distance, although the Catacombs themselves stretch out for an astonishing 300 kilometers. Visitors are taken down over 130 steps and the temperate below ground remains at a constant 14 degrees celsius.

It is amazing to think that beneath a beautiful and bustling city, now home to over 10 million people, are the remains of over 6 million people who lived there before them.

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