Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)
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Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)

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Catacombs of Paris

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[1] and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris's stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1874. Following an incident of vandalism, they were closed to the public in September 2009 and reopened 19 December of the same year.[2] Catacombs of Paris

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[1] and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris's stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1874. Following an incident of vandalism, they were closed to the public in September 2009 and reopened 19 December of the same year.[2]
The official name for the catacombs is l'Ossuaire Municipal. Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground tunnels comprising "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"), Parisians today often refer to the entire tunnel network as "the catacombs".

History

Background: Parisian cemeteries Since Roman times, Paris buried its dead on the outskirts of the city, but habits changed with the rise of Christianity and its practice of burying its faithful in the consecrated ground under and around its churches, no matter their location. By the 10th century many of Paris's parish cemeteries were well within city limits, and eventually some, because of their central location in dense urban growth, were unable to expand and became quite overcrowded. An attempt to remedy this situation came in the early 12th century with the opening of a central mass burial ground for those not wealthy enough to pay for a church burial. Depending on the St. Opportune church near Paris's central Les Halles district, this cemetery had its own Saints Innocents church and parish appellation by the end of the same century. Eventually Paris's other churches adopted the technique of mass inhumation as well. Once an excavation in one section of the cemetery was full, it would be covered over and another opened. Residues resulting from the decaying of organic matter, a process often chemically accelerated with the use of lime, entered directly into the earth, creating a situation quite unacceptable for a city whose then principal source of water was wells.

By the 17th century the sanitary conditions around Saints Innocents were unbearable. As it was one of Paris's most sought-after cemeteries and a large source of revenue for the parish and church, the clergy had continued burials there even when its grounds were filled to overflowing. By then the cemetery was lined on all four sides with "charniers" reserved for the bones of the dead exhumed from mass graves that had "lain" long enough for all the flesh they contained to decompose. Once emptied, a mass sepulchre would be used again, but even then the earth was already filled beyond saturation with decomposing human remains.

A series of ineffective decrees limiting the use of the cemetery did little to remedy the situation, and it wasn't until the late 18th century that it was decided to create three new large-scale suburban burial grounds on the outskirts of the city, and to condemn all existing parish cemeteries within city limits. The new cemeteries were created outside the central area of the capital, in the early 19th century: Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, Passy Cemetery in the west. Later, Montparnasse Cemetery was added in the south.

Paris's former mines

The government had been searching for and consolidating long abandoned stone quarries in and around the capital since 1777, and it was the Police Lieutenant General overseeing the renovations, Alexandre Lenoir, who first had the idea to use empty underground tunnels on the outskirts of the capital to this end. His successor, Thiroux de Crosne, chose a place to the south of Paris's "porte d'Enfer" city gate (the place Denfert-Rochereau today), and the exhumation and transfer of all Paris's dead to the underground sepulture began in 1786, taking until 1788 to complete.[3]

Creation, decoration

From the eve of a consecration ceremony on the 7th April the same year, behind a procession of chanting priests, began a parade of black-covered bone-laden horse-drawn wagons that continued for years to come. In work overseen by the Inspector General of Quarries, Charles-Axel Guillaumot, the bones were deposited in a wide well dug in land bought from a property, "La maison de la Tombe Issoire" (near a house with the same name), and distributed throughout the underground caverns by workers below. Also deposited near the same house were crosses, urns and other necropolis memorabilia recovered from Paris's church graveyards.

Bone pile in Parisian Catacombs

The catacombs in their first years were mainly a bone repository, but Guillaumot's successor from 1810, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, oversaw the renovations that would transform the underground caverns into a real and visitable sepulture on par with any mausoleum. In addition to directing the rearrangement of skulls and femurs into the arrangement seen in the catacombs today, he used the tombstones and cemetery decorations he could find (many had disappeared after the 1789 Revolution) to complement the walls of bones.

General description

The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris's former Barrière d'Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 metres to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channelling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France's Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ('Halt! This is the Empire of the Dead').

Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created 'keg' bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other 'monuments' created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised "La Samaritaine" because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other 'unvisitable' parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours.

In a cavern just before the exit stairway leading to a building on the rue Dareau (former 'rue des Catacombes') above, one could see an example of the Quarry Inspection's work in the rest of Paris's underground caverns: its roof is two 11-metre high domes of naturally degraded, but reinforced, rock; the dates painted into the highest point of each bear witness to what year the work to the collapsing cavern ceiling was done, and whether it has degraded since. These "fontis" were the reason for a general panic in late-18th-century Paris, after several houses and roadways collapsed into previously unknown caverns below.

Other inhumations

Bodies of the dead from the riots in the Place de Grève, the Hôtel de Brienne, and Rue Meslée were put in the catacombs on 28 and 29 August 1788.

The catacomb walls are covered in graffiti dating from the eighteenth century onwards. Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the tunnel system in Les Misérables. In 1871, communards killed a group of monarchists in one chamber. During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system. Also during this period, German soldiers established an underground bunker in the catacombs below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissement

Building Disadvantages

Although the catacombs were used to bury the dead in a larger place, they had disadvantages to building structures. Because the catacombs are right under the Paris streets, large foundations cannot be built. Therefore, there are not many tall buildings in Paris for this reason.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Paris The official name for the catacombs is l'Ossuaire Municipal. Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground tunnels comprising "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"), Parisians today often refer to the entire tunnel network as "the catacombs".

History

Background: Parisian cemeteries Since Roman times, Paris buried its dead on the outskirts of the city, but habits changed with the rise of Christianity and its practice of burying its faithful in the consecrated ground under and around its churches, no matter their location. By the 10th century many of Paris's parish cemeteries were well within city limits, and eventually some, because of their central location in dense urban growth, were unable to expand and became quite overcrowded. An attempt to remedy this situation came in the early 12th century with the opening of a central mass burial ground for those not wealthy enough to pay for a church burial. Depending on the St. Opportune church near Paris's central Les Halles district, this cemetery had its own Saints Innocents church and parish appellation by the end of the same century. Eventually Paris's other churches adopted the technique of mass inhumation as well. Once an excavation in one section of the cemetery was full, it would be covered over and another opened. Residues resulting from the decaying of organic matter, a process often chemically accelerated with the use of lime, entered directly into the earth, creating a situation quite unacceptable for a city whose then principal source of water was wells.

By the 17th century the sanitary conditions around Saints Innocents were unbearable. As it was one of Paris's most sought-after cemeteries and a large source of revenue for the parish and church, the clergy had continued burials there even when its grounds were filled to overflowing. By then the cemetery was lined on all four sides with "charniers" reserved for the bones of the dead exhumed from mass graves that had "lain" long enough for all the flesh they contained to decompose. Once emptied, a mass sepulchre would be used again, but even then the earth was already filled beyond saturation with decomposing human remains.

A series of ineffective decrees limiting the use of the cemetery did little to remedy the situation, and it wasn't until the late 18th century that it was decided to create three new large-scale suburban burial grounds on the outskirts of the city, and to condemn all existing parish cemeteries within city limits. The new cemeteries were created outside the central area of the capital, in the early 19th century: Montmartre Cemetery in the north, Père Lachaise Cemetery in the east, Passy Cemetery in the west. Later, Montparnasse Cemetery was added in the south.

Paris's former mines

The government had been searching for and consolidating long abandoned stone quarries in and around the capital since 1777, and it was the Police Lieutenant General overseeing the renovations, Alexandre Lenoir, who first had the idea to use empty underground tunnels on the outskirts of the capital to this end. His successor, Thiroux de Crosne, chose a place to the south of Paris's "porte d'Enfer" city gate (the place Denfert-Rochereau today), and the exhumation and transfer of all Paris's dead to the underground sepulture began in 1786, taking until 1788 to complete.[3]

Creation, decoration

From the eve of a consecration ceremony on the 7th April the same year, behind a procession of chanting priests, began a parade of black-covered bone-laden horse-drawn wagons that continued for years to come. In work overseen by the Inspector General of Quarries, Charles-Axel Guillaumot, the bones were deposited in a wide well dug in land bought from a property, "La maison de la Tombe Issoire" (near a house with the same name), and distributed throughout the underground caverns by workers below. Also deposited near the same house were crosses, urns and other necropolis memorabilia recovered from Paris's church graveyards.

Bone pile in Parisian Catacombs

The catacombs in their first years were mainly a bone repository, but Guillaumot's successor from 1810, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, oversaw the renovations that would transform the underground caverns into a real and visitable sepulture on par with any mausoleum. In addition to directing the rearrangement of skulls and femurs into the arrangement seen in the catacombs today, he used the tombstones and cemetery decorations he could find (many had disappeared after the 1789 Revolution) to complement the walls of bones.

General description

The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris's former Barrière d'Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 metres to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channelling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France's Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ('Halt! This is the Empire of the Dead').

Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created 'keg' bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other 'monuments' created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised "La Samaritaine" because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other 'unvisitable' parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours.

In a cavern just before the exit stairway leading to a building on the rue Dareau (former 'rue des Catacombes') above, one could see an example of the Quarry Inspection's work in the rest of Paris's underground caverns: its roof is two 11-metre high domes of naturally degraded, but reinforced, rock; the dates painted into the highest point of each bear witness to what year the work to the collapsing cavern ceiling was done, and whether it has degraded since. These "fontis" were the reason for a general panic in late-18th-century Paris, after several houses and roadways collapsed into previously unknown caverns below.

Other inhumations

Bodies of the dead from the riots in the Place de Grève, the Hôtel de Brienne, and Rue Meslée were put in the catacombs on 28 and 29 August 1788.

The catacomb walls are covered in graffiti dating from the eighteenth century onwards. Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the tunnel system in Les Misérables. In 1871, communards killed a group of monarchists in one chamber. During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system. Also during this period, German soldiers established an underground bunker in the catacombs below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissement

Building Disadvantages

Although the catacombs were used to bury the dead in a larger place, they had disadvantages to building structures. Because the catacombs are right under the Paris streets, large foundations cannot be built. Therefore, there are not many tall buildings in Paris for this reason.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacombs_of_Paris

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This panorama was taken in Paris

This is an overview of Paris

Overview and History

Welcome to Paris, the City Of Lights, La Ville-Lumiere! We're going to depart from the standard timeline here and just start looking at pictures. You can put the history together in your mind along the way, or live contentedly with an abstract expression of images, whichever you prefer.

For lessons in light from the expressionist masters, blur yourself directly to the Orsay Museum and find Monet, Renoir and Cezanne waiting. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The River Seine divides the city into two halves, called the Left Bank and Right Bank. The right bank is on the north side, left to the south. In general the right bank claims the sophistication and modern development in Paris, while the left bank has the universities, parks and historic areas.

There are two islands on the river in the middle of the city, Ile de la Cite and Ile de St. Louis. Here's a beautiful Flower Market on Ile de la City, which is the oldest section of the city. It's also home to Notre Dame cathedral

The Right Bank has a big hill called Montmartre, literally translating to "Mount Mars" or "Mountain of the Martyr", depending on which time period you take the story from. Its name dates back to at least 250A.D and it's home to the Sacre Coeur Basilica among many other things of note, such as the studios of Salvadore Dali, Picasso and Van Gogh.

And what else? The Champs-Elysees, of course! The Champs-Elysees is the most prestigious avenue in Paris. L'Arc de Triomph stands at the western end of the Champs-Elysees, at the star shaped intersection of twelve major avenues which is called Place d'Etoil. The Arch is a monument to all who fought for France, especially during the Napoleonic wars.

By the way, the sprint finish of the Tour de France -- the most prestigious bicycle race in the world -- comes down the Champs-Elysees. Catch it in the early summer.

You may have heard of a museum called Le Louvre. Before you attempt to visit it, go through some tour de france training to build up your stamina. This is a museum big enough to take your whole summer to walk through, and that's without even stopping to look at any of the art.

Situated right along the river is the Place de la Concord, the largest open square in the city. It's where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and 2,798 of their closest friends met the guillotine during the French Revolution. The smell of blood was so strong, according to the tale, that a herd of cattle refused to cross the square.

Let's see what we have on the Left Bank. How about Les Invalides, a stately group of museums and monuments dedicated to military history, which also houses a hospital and residences for veterans.

The Left Bank has for decades been the center of academic life in Paris, which can be summed up in a word: La Sorbonne. La Sorbonne is the nickname for the University of Paris, founded in 1257. It sits in a historic scholarly sector called the Latin Quarter, which connects La Sorbonne to the Left Bank (Place Maubert). If Paris was a tropical island, this would be the coral reef.

Near La Sorbonne can be found Le Jardin de Luxembourg, where Marie d'Medici's chateau stands. It's a pleasant little country house in Florentine style. They used it for a prison during the French Revolution and for Luftwaffe headquarters during WWII. It now houses the French Senate.

Shakespeare and Co Library sits in the heart of the Latin Quarter and has earned an international reputation for being more than just a bookshop.

Getting There

Take a look at the Gare du Nord Paris North Station. One of six large train stations in Paris, it's the busiest one in Europe. If you're already on the continent, you very well may arrive here.

As for airports, there are two: Charles De Gualle and Orly. De Gaulle airport is about 25 minutes by train from Gare du Nord station, Orly is a bit closer. Here's the train information for connections to the city.

Transportation

Here's one of the 380 metro stations in Paris, the Palais-Royale at the Louvre. Looking good! This is Europe's second-largest metro system and it's connected with the buses the commuter rail network to get you around the city.

People and Culture

Beside the fact that Paris contains all walks of life, "people and culture" in Paris is synonymous with food and wine. Here we are smack in the middle of it, La Contrescarpe at Mouffetard Street.

Remember, champagne was perfected here during the Belle Epoque, and you need the proper setting in which to drink it.

And check out this fish shop!! This is what the zoom tool was made for!

In case you're wondering, there's a gritty side to Paris, too. Here's a little mobile graffiti.

In the same vein, by which I mean "cheap" or "free", stroll around Left Bank to the flea market at Place Maubert.

Street musicians are another great thing about Paris. Here are some drummers, some visual artists on the Quai de Conti, and there should be an organ grinder on the corner when you get there. Let me know if you see him.

Things to do & Recommendations

Street food -- get a croque monsieur or croque madam, it's a toasted cheese sandwich with or without ham. They're so good, it's the pizza slice of Paris! I can't for the life of me understand why nobody has shot a panorama of one.

Street food part 2, and I quote:

"the motherfucking best falafel in the world is there in the Marais. it's called La Du's and it's on the Rue de Rosiers. it's the 5th I think, right bank. If you flirt with the take out boys they'll give you more falafel too, I'm not kidding it's a fucking transcendant experience."

"there's also this bar in the 11th, called the baron rouge, where on sunday a friend of the owner drives in from normandy with a truck full of oysters and just parks it in front of the bar and sells oysters out the back and you just eat them on the street and drink Muscadet off the top of parked cars." (Thank you Allison O'Leary)

Spend a little time outdoors in the beautiful Botanical Garden, see if you can find the recycled dragon.

No trip to Paris would ever be complete without... well actually the reason Paris is Paris because you never finish seeing it all.

Move there, spend a lifetime there, walk everyplace you go and you still won't see it all. It's like New York, London or Tokyo; anyplace in such a state of constant change will remain eternally elusive.

I almost said, "no trip to Paris would be complete without going up the Eiffel Tower and seeing the view from the top."

Text by Steve Smith.

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