Paris, France. City of light, the city of love, the city of life. When planning a trip to Paris you
may be attracted to the vast array of elegant coffee shops, grandiose art galleries, and museums. Thoughts may consume you of great poets writing in the park or lovers walking hand and hand through the busy streets. It certainly is a tourist’s dream. A city that has everything you could ever dream of with a history as rich and deep as those enchanting dreams.
City of love, the city of life… the city of death? Lurking beneath the city streets is a cryptic accident which has a deep dark history spanning the centuries. From Roman times to the great plague to Nazi invasion. The Catacombs of Paris are often not heard of in the typical tourist ads, and for many, it is not the first place to visit on a trip to the city of light.
I am here to share with you some reasons why you should take the abysmal plunge beneath the city streets to view the catacombs for yourself. After all, how can you truly appreciate what is above without first respecting what is below?
The ancient mines of Paris run beneath almost the entire city. A smallish section of that tunnel network holds much more that just the foundations of modern day Paris. It is the home to more than 6 million human remains. An open tomb in the heart of the greatest, most beautiful city in the world. So why would you venture down 130 steps to witness such a disturbing part of the cities history?
During our everyday novel lives, hardships, struggle, and the realistic harshness of the world are often lost to us. When I explored the catacombs for myself, a part of my mind and perhaps even my soul was awakened. I was shaken to the reality from which modern civilization has been built. I felt that in some way I had witnessed a place that embodied in every way the hard truths of the world and it’s histories.
My eyes were opened to the profound lesson that the entire city is held up by the remains of its very own citizens. A city for the people by the people. This is the type of place that widened my perspective to human struggle and endurance. In difficult times for the love and desire of progress and civilization human beings are capable of much more than our contemporary eyes are often able to see. A peek into reality, an open look at history, and a perspective of the city that many people never get to experience.
There is only one Eiffel tower, one Mona Lisa, one Notre Dame de Paris. Man-made structures, art, and religion of profound historical significance and beauty who’s homes are in Paris. However, mankind also created the catacombs in which there is no other, nothing that even comes close anywhere in the world.
Human desperation and resourcefulness like no other. In a frenzied attempt to control the dead population within the city walls, kings, priests and officials scattered to find a solution. The already existing tunnels by the long gone Romans seemed like the perfect idea. So they filled the tunnels, it’s abandoned hallways with the bodies. A mass grave like the museum was born. When the city began to crumble under the weight of the world above in 1777 the newly appointed Charles Axel Guillaumot first quarries inspector under King Louis XVI, did more than just raise the city from it’s crumbling state. He created walls from the bodies. Great pillars were born in some parts as structural support to the city above. Who knew? Who would have thought there was such a gruesome foundation laying under your feet. It is certainly difficult to imagine while sipping an espresso in a french cafe.
If the reasons above have attracted you to the idea of visiting the catacombs then perhaps you are wondering what you should expect.
The entrance to the catacombs is located at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France. It was by far the longest line that I waited in the entire time I was in Paris. As it was right up there on my list of places I wanted to see, waiting was something that I did not mind. We waited for 2 1/2 hours, so if you are pressed for time you may want to look at what you wish to do and if you can fit it in. However, if this is a must see attraction for you then arriving early and bringing some reading material, water and snacks make the wait a lot easier. Believe me, it was certainly worth the wait once you get down there.
Reaching a depth of 20 meters in some places the catacombs are bound to be a bit chilly compared to the streets above. I was visiting the city in September and on that particular day it was very hot so I was glad that I brought a sweater because once standing on top of the spiraling stairs there was quite a cool draft. So if you are planning on exploring the catacombs for yourself bring a sweater. It is not freezing down below but a sweater will make things more enjoyable while in the deeper parts.
It was such an odd feeling entering into the Catacombs. I had a lot of built up excitement, that it was kind of shocking when an overwhelming somber sense washed over me. The longer we were down there the more sedated I became, along with everyone else down below. Walking through a 300-year-old graveyard with walls made of over 6 million dead Parisians leaves your soul feeling heavy. So keep in mind that this is not the type of place you go to laugh and take pictures, but a place to pay respects and take in the weight of your environment.
Have you ever heard of the Catacombs in Paris? Would you visit them if you were visiting the City?
Take another look at Paris by visiting The Notre Dame de Paris.