The clock has struck NOON in Paris and we meet Karina at the Catacombs.
The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris are an underground ossuary in Paris, France. Located south of the former city gate (the "Barrière d'Enfer" at today's Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris's stone mines.
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Why Paris Catacombs fascinate me?
Did you know that over 6 million Parisians are buried under the city streets? That Paris catacombs is the biggest necropolis in the world? Aha! I thought you didn't!
How did it all start?
By 18th century Paris with its 200 cemeteries within city walls was seriously overcrowded by dead. One of the biggest cemeteries – Cemetery of Innocents had huge amount of aristocratic dead buried under the church, bourgeois in the graves around the cemetery and poor in mass graves. The putrified remains of the dead were so dense whole of Paris soil and water were contaminated. The stench was unbearable, and the cemetery itself with its promenading acrobats, prostitutes, thieves and beggars was literally wall to wall with residential houses. You can imagine the amount of infection outbreaks the city experienced.
After the incident when the walls of a restaurant next to the Cemetery of Innocents caved in May 1780 and thousands of bones and half-decomposed bodies flooded its cellar to the horror of Parisians, after the same thing happened with the residential homes, the authorities decided to close the cemetery. However for 5 more years the rest of the cemeteries around the city continued to be overcrowded, until the authorites agreed with the idea of a police lieutenant Lenoir to use Paris quarries as burial grounds.
Paris quarries where the city masons used to find limestone was a literal maze of underground chambers which had been excavated since the early Middle Ages. They were closed in 18th century because of the danger of the city going under due to the weak foundations (which is the reason you won't see many tall buildings within the old city walls these days) and this vast underground space seemed to be a perfect solution for the problem.
From 1785 until 1814 the remains of the dead were being transported into the quarries. At first it was a solemn funeral ceremony, starting after dark with procession of priests and black chariots, but soon the routine turned the work messy, bones were shoved in and mixed up. The ossuaries of Paris or "catacombs" didn't start as the famous macabre art we now know them for; in the beginning the bones were piled up without any consideration but Viscount de Thury, a general inspector of quarries from 1808 till 1831 changed their look.
When the work was done in 1814, the catacombs were opened to public, but the bones were being stolen, people were lost and the administration closed the quarries for good until the last quarter of the 19th century, and only the most famous historical figures could receive a guided tour of catacombs.
In 1897 the catacombs held their first illegal "rave". The guests received mysterious invitations asking them to secretly present themselves to the entrance of the catacombs in the evening and not to park near by so they won't attract attention of the authorites. When they were led inside they discovered 45 musicians giving a morbid concert of funeral marches among food and drinks and people mingling. The guides nowadays still talk about that concert...
I could have gone for ages about the catacombs and its fascinating history, but the fact is they are huge part of Paris, pretty morbid, and relatively unknown. If I'm in Paris I'm definitely visiting! What about you?
Guest post created by Karina of Nocturnal Book Reviews
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