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The Paris Catacombes

Walking amongst the dead.

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View Paris and Normandy on Anniemax's travel map.

We had a leisurely start to the day by walking down to the beautiful Rue Montorgueil, described as:

...a vibrant pedestrian area in the heart of Paris. Some of the city's best produce, meat and fish markets can be found here, along with renowned pastry shops like La Maison Stohrer, cozy bistros, boutiques, and bars diverse enough to please hipsters and traditionalists alike.

This district shows how even the busy center of Paris reserves village-like nooks. It also gives a picture of how Paris manages to be resolutely modern while preserving a rich heritage.

It was lovely to sit in one of the sidewalk cafes sipping coffee and eating our breakfast baguettes. The day started out with blue skies and was slightly cooler than yesterday. We'd even get a sprinkling of rain in the afternoon however blue skies returned by the evening.

From Rue Montorgueil we caught the RER to the Catacombs of Paris.

From the official website:

"The Catacombs of Paris (the “municipal Ossuary”) were created at the end of the 18th century. The cemetery of Innocent (close to Saint-Eustace, in the district of the "Halles") had been used for nearly ten centuries and had become the origin of infection for all the inhabitants of the district. After multiple complaints, the Council of State, by decision on November 9, 1785, pronounced the removal and the evacuation of the cemetery of the Innocent ones.

Old Quarries were selected to deposit Parisian bones; Paris indeed had just created the General Inspection of the Quarries charged with the consolidation of the public highways undermined by the Quarries. The Quarries “of Tombe-Issoire” were the object of work including masonry and consolidations of galleries, and by the digging of a flanked staircase.

The removal of the bones began after the blessing of the place on April 7, 1786 and was continued until 1788, always at night and according to a ceremony made up of a procession of priests who sang the burial service along the way borrowed by the tipcarts charged with bones and covered with a black veil. Thereafter, this place was used, until 1814, to collect the bones of all the cemeteries of Paris.


From the first day of their creation, the Catacombs caused curiosity. In 1787, Lord of d' Artois, who will become Charles 10, went down there, in company of ladies from the Court. The following year, one mentions the visit of Madam de Polignac and Madam de Guiche. In 1814, François 1st, emperor of Austria, residing as a winner in Paris visited them. In 1860, Napoleon III went down there with his son.

The Catacombs of Paris reopened on June 14, 2005 after several months of closing for work. Lighting was revised, the arches were consolidated and the walls of re-installed bones. "

I'm so glad we visited the Catacombes - very popular at this time of year - 1 hour queue as only 200 visitors are allowed in the 2km site at a time. From ground level you descend 130 steps. (83 steps to return to the surface)

At first, the site of skulls and other bones displayed in patterns obviously strikes you as quite strange. At the same time the site also feels very sacred and solemn.

From the official website:

The Catacombs gather the remainders of approximately six million Parisian, transferred between the end from 18e century and the middle from the 19e century, progressively of the closing of the cemeteries for reason of insalubrity. Along a labyrinth of obscure galleries and narrow corridors , the visitor discovers the bones laid out in a "romantico-macabre" decoration. Pillars, bells of subsidence or bath of feet of the quarrymen evoke the origin of the places, the limestone quarries, while sharpening the curiosity of the visitor. This underground museum restores the history of Parisian and invites to a voyage out of time.[b]

I couldn't help but wonder what the stories were of these remains. The bottom line is that no matter what your status, whether you were a man or woman, young or old, whether you were good or bad, every body was exhumed and transported to this final resting place.

I didn't find it disturbing but fascinating and at all times, I felt very aware that I was indeed in a cemetery.

This is a very special part of the history of Paris.

Tomorrow we leave Paris for Giverny to visit the home and gardens of one of my favourite artists...Monet.

Nearly falling asleep...night all. xxx

Posted by Anniemax 13:39 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites

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