Empire of the Dead: The Paris Catacombs

Quick! Who wants a family photo?
Quick! Who wants a family photo?

I thought “Okay, October is over. Enough of that.” Then I thought “Nah, one more creepy article!”

Obviously everyone knows Paris as the City of Love, but did you know that Paris rests atop the Empire of the Dead? I know what you’re thinking, that’s even more romantic, right? I agree! But before you run off to plan your trip to Death Land, pop a squat and learn how this wonderful attraction took form! 😀

Typically, cities would bury their dead a short distance away from the more populated areas. Paris, however, is anything but typical. Through a series of unfortunate events (mainly being invaded to death and having to resettle,) Paris developed with the city’s cemeteries front and center. Frontiest and centeriest was Les Innocents cemetery.

That must be a baby-changing station!
That must be a baby-changing station!

Les Innocents cemetery soon became ground zero for like, all the dead people… centuries of dead people. Eventually the cemetery was full to overflowing. More room was made by exhuming many bodies and stuffing the bones into the walls of the cemetery. That space was quickly filled up, as were the new plots. By the late 1700’s, Les Innocents was full to bursting.

I mean that literally, too. A metric shit-ton of dead people led to the formation of a mound over two yards tall. Paris officials did the sensible thing and issued decrees limiting the use of the burial ground. Parisians did the sensible thing and flipped them the bird while stuffing more dead people into their ghastly pinata. Shit got real when said pinata finally burst into someone’s basement.

I mean, can you even imagine? Here you are, sitting in your mancave doing whatever French dudes do in French mancaves. Out of nowhere, a bunch of dead people/skeletons come bursting through your wall as if reaching for your very soul.

I think I’d either crap myself to death or die trying to run up the stairs in terror. Could end up being both, to be honest… 

Anyway, at the same time the Les Innocents death-bomb was growing, so too were limestone mines beneath the city. Eventually these mines were abandoned and, much like the mighty death wad of a cemetery, began to collapse. Paris officials looked at their cemeteries, then looked at the mines, then got an idea…

The work was started in 1785. A nightly procession of grisly proportions carted load after load of bony debris to the tunnels below the city. There were so many remains that it took a good two years to get them all tossed in. That’s not hyperbole either, the newly-crafted catacombs were more of a junky attic than a respectful mausoleum.

That’s where  Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury comes into play in 1810. The then-head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service (and badass long-name owner) was responsible for organizing the bones into the walls, patterns and semi-sculptures that can be seen in the catacombs to this day. Death never looked so good!

"Warning! Extreme creepiness ahead."
“Warning! Fun for the whole family.”

Today there are an estimated 6 million dead French people resting peacef… well, at least resting… in the now-infamous catacombs. A sign at the entrance to the catacombs cheerfully tells you “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.”(Stop! This is the empire of death.) If you believe the tales told, some of the dead should be feared.

Stories abound of some dead that aren’t resting so peacefully in their underground play-around. Imagine that: the spirits of the jumbled dead being all worked up over their situation! Jeez, what’s their problem?

Even if you aren’t the supernatural kind, you should still be cautious. There’s a LOT of tunnels, like 200 miles worth. Not all of them are full of dead people, but they are always looking to expand.

You could end up contributing to the project if you lose your way. You wouldn’t be the first to do so, either. It is not unheard of to find fresh corpses of wayward adventurers who took a wrong turn down a dark tunnel. No word on whether they just stuff them into the wall right then and there.

Whether you are on your honeymoon and looking for a romantic place to hang out, or you want to give your kids wonderful lasting memories on their family vacation, the Paris Catacombs are the place for you! Just make sure to stay with your tour group (and buy something from the gift shop) lest you find yourself a permanent addition to the collection.

Sweet dreams, kiddies!