Exploring the Paris Catacombs

Exploring the Paris Catacombs

Visit the City of the Dead

Paris has become one of the premiere tourist destinations in the world. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are popular attractions that millions of people visit every year. However, few of those tourists are aware of the creepy underworld that exists right beneath their feet. The catacombs of Paris host a veritable City of the Dead, housing the remains of almost 6 million people. And, should you dare, these massive ossuaries are open to tourists.

Photo: Ignis via Wiki Commons

Photo: Ignis via Wiki Commons

The need for such an extensive gravesite arose in the 17th century when Paris was experiencing tremendous growth. With growth comes an increase in population and more people eventually lead to more dead people. The city was simply running out of room as the cemeteries were overflowing. This wasn’t doing wonders for the health of the city, either, as Paris was becoming rife with disease.

Photo: Vlastimil Juricek

Photo: Vlastimil Juricek

There have been several failed attempts to find solutions for the city’s growing problem. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that Parisians realized the tunnels underneath the city could be used as ossuaries. The tunnels were already in place and had been this way since the 13th century when they were dug up for limestone. However, for hundreds of years, they have just been sitting there with no purpose.

Photo: Riggwelter via Wiki Commons

Photo: Riggwelter via Wiki Commons

In 1786, the catacombs were open for business. Right away, they proved to be a morbid curiosity for Paris’ elite. In 1787, they were visited by the Count d’Artois, the future King Charles X of France. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that they became a tourist attraction open to the public.

Photo: Julian Fong via Flickr

Photo: Julian Fong via Flickr

Today, the catacombs extend over 4.2 square miles underneath Paris. While they make an interesting attraction, they also pose an engineering problem to the modern city of Paris. Because they go down so deep, they don’t make a very solid foundation for heavy buildings. Areas of the city that extend over the catacombs can normally only be populated with houses and other small buildings.

Photo: Shadowgate via Wiki Commons

Photo: Shadowgate via Wiki Commons

 

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Marcelo Braga via Flickr.