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What's that green stuff up there ?! More importantly, duck! because that's a really low ceiling (near the end of the tour).

Since my man didn’t want to surround himself with 6 million dead people (and French ones at that!), nor did I want to permanently scar my children from viewing macabre imagery, I had to visit Les Catacombes by myself. What makes me do such silly things?!! I can’t even visit cemeteries after dusk…

Tunnels will indicate what street lies above them.

Entrance to the ‘Municipal Ossuary’ is not well-signed. Thank goodness for Google Map for showing me a photo with a HUGE line-up at the obscure location. I arrived about 10:30 one Friday morning in December and I was 90th to enter. Since this place opened at 10 a.m., it is obviously popular and only 200 visitors are allowed in the site at any time. I rented the audioguide because it would force me to stay and learn something instead of whisk right through in my slightly anxious state.

That's not a shabby wall falling apart; that's one of several air vents that lead up and out of the quarry so that the 200 people in the site can breathe SLOWLY.

Black lines drawn on ceiling so quarry workers don't lose their way.

A model of Les Catacombes. See the spiraling staircase?! Yep, it's lower than the sewers (top right hole) and 'urban heating' (top left hole) and the metro, which I didn't hear the whole time.

It was a long and winding 132 steps down, past the subway and sewer systems and then through long, dimly-lit passageways that turned in several directions before rising up to the entrance to “The Empire of Death.”  Much of the time, I was alone and listened to my boring audioguide explain how these tunnels were carved from limestone which led to the quarries which eventually became the new resting place for all these bones. Because it was dark in areas, I missed a bunch of icons to cue my audioguide so by the time I reached the Catacombs, I was caught off-guard by it.

Down the long, dimly-lit corridors. Hey, there's my audioguide cue on the left!

Before reaching Les Catacombes, the tunnels lead to sculptures like this one, created by a quarry man, who died when he tried to build a stairway to lead to his works and there was a cave-in.

The 'guard' by the sculptures was snoring up a storm so I decided to photograph him sans flash--then he woke up before I took the picture. I think that was the scariest moment underground for me.

After passing a well of some kind, ah! Now the corridor brightens and leads UP to the ossuary.

It wasn’t scary per se, but quite eery. Now I know the meaning of “dead quiet.” So it was annoying when a parade of kids tromped through like a party in a cemetery. But then again, having the company of living people was a nice change. In any case, visitors were respectful and the bones were all neatly arranged and well-signed from their origins. I saw nothing gruesome, no haunting configurations of skeletons (just skulls and bones) but oddly enough, missed most of the interesting arrangements of skulls and bones and forgot to photograph the one made into a barrel-shape. I must have been getting tired… I stepped into some puddles and stuff was dripping over my head in some sections.

This is the corridor to the Ossuary, under Rue Halle. Between the 2 diamonds is the entrance. Above it reads en francais, "Stop. Here is the Empire of Death."

This is what you see as soon as you enter the Ossuary. The entrance is LINED on both sides like this. It goes on, and on, and on.

Bones from the cemetery of Les Innocents, which was one of the major cemeteries that was overflowing with rotting corpses. Now, who would want to sit here?!

Now I had to bone up (see, I am tired!) on my Paris history to understand why Les Catacombes exist. The cemeteries in Paris were getting crowded as the population grew and so some churches offered mass burial grounds. One of them was the Church of Saints Innocents (founded 12th C; destroyed 18th C), which had the oldest and largest cemetery in the city. It was situated near Les Halles, where the traditional central market was located. So imagine the thousand+ bodies rotting in a big pit, the stench, the contaminated well-water, the spread of disease, etc. etc. And then when it rained–Ooh La La!! (They really say that here.) It must have been unbearable. In the mid-1780s, bodies were exhumed and moved with great ritual to the catacombes/ quarries. It seemed that Catacombes contained A LOT of Innocents bones, in about 6 separate locations. There were also bones from a hospital that was near my present residence, bones from the cemetery of St. Eustache, another (majestic) church near Les Halles, and bones from guillotined bodies from the Revolutionary riots. And where did that take place? Place de Greve, which is the area in front of l’Hotel de Ville, closest to the Seine !! Sheesh!! That was such a nice place to walk through…

'Dem bones' were significant for me because this old church is at the end of my street! And there's obviously no cemetery there now.

Many thoughtful messages are posted throughout the Ossuary. This says, "Insane whom you are why/ you promise to live for a long time, you who cannot count on a single day."

So this is why the newer cemeteries like Montmartre (north) and Pere LaChaise (east) were created in the 19th C OUTSIDE the city (back then), to keep the possible occurrence of pestilence and disease away from the city. The old cemeteries were condemned once the bodies were moved to the Catacombes.

Did you enjoy your history lesson 101?! Ok, the next post should be lighter…

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