First and foremost, Happy Thanksgiving to all of my readers from the USA! I hope you’re all spending it with family or friends and having a wonderful day of good food and good memories. (Spent mine with Sean eating at an American diner and visiting the Louvre again-more on that later!) I would also like to say Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate as well!
For this “throwback” Thursday we’re just rewinding a wee bit to last week when my visiting friend and I made the journey to the Denfert-Rocherau stop on the RER B and popped across the street to the entrance of Paris’ Catacombs. The tunnels that makeup the catacombs are really the remains of a (limestone) quarry used over quite a lengthy period of time to mine the stones that make up Paris’ buildings (if my brief glance at the informational boards was correct). However, in 1780 Paris was suffering from something of a sanitation crisis in the Les Halles region, where cemeteries were almost literally overflowing with corpses given the long history of burial in a single site, and disease was starting to run rampant. Citizens complained, the government winced and listened, and thus 5 years later a credence was declared to exhume all of the bodies of several Parisian cemeteries and fill the quarries with them-a project that lasted until 1860. Now, the entirety of the quarries–which extend through most of Paris–was not filled, and many tunnels are today cherished by urban explorers (and drug dealers, homeless folk, etc) for their cavelike and mazelike qualities, but are officially considered quite dangerous and are closed off. (Obviously this doesn’t stop people for entering. Truth be told, I would love to be one of them.) However, a small portion that was created into an ossuary now serves as a pretty popular tourist site-since it’s beginnings- and the bones are arranged neatly and occasionally even artistically.
The Catacombs are really not terrifying at all. They’re not overly cold or dank, and the part that tourists will visit has nicely bricked walls in some areas and even floors, is well lit, and not full of nasty puddles as I was expecting. Perhaps I’ve just been exposed to bones so much (lots of anthropology/bioanthropology classes in college) that any terror they might induce has worn off me, but really I find them to be perfectly normal and the catacombs is simply an interesting way to display them. I mean, better than having them popping out of the ground in an over-crowded cemetery, right?
Most of my pictures from the catacombs didn’t turn out particularly well as the lighting is kept low and I don’t have my tripod with me here in France. However, I took quite a few blurry pictures of signs posted around that had bits of poetry or what seemed like words of advice about death, all of which sound three times lovelier (and more poetic) in French. They were probably one of the most interesting parts of the walk–which, by the way, is blissfully self-guided.
Although the tour was short and not as extensive as I’d like, the Paris Catacombs are definitely a stop I’d recommend during a visit to Paris…it’s something quite different from the typical art galleries and flower gardens that Paris is ever so famed for. As for me, I shall continue to cross my fingers that I find someone who can get me into the other areas of the catacombs someday…
Enjoy your Turkey Day everyone!