Catacombs of Paris – Fascinating and Scary at the Same Time

Jul 2, 2022 | Articles, Travel

The Catacombs of Paris are some of the most famous attractions in Paris. Tourists love them for their mystique and mystery. They hide so many dark secrets.
For a city famous for its love of fashion, romance, and culture, Paris has a couple of dark secrets lurking under its streets. And the Catacombs are home for most of them. Here are some secrets and fascinating facts about the Catacombs.

More than six million Parisians are buried there

The catacombs house the remains of more than 6 million dead Parisians. Our ancestors didn’t live as cleanly as we do nowadays. Truth be told, they didn’t know better. Streets were made of mud and dirt. People threw their trash out of the window and onto the roads.
By the 18th century, the cemeteries in Paris had grown overcrowded. Those living near the cemeteries complained about the strong odor. They even started getting sick because of the odor.

So, Paris had to do something. What they do was turn to some of the city’s underground quarries. They organized movement of more than six million buddies, taken from previously existing graveyards and transporting them to the Catacombs.

They are way bigger than they look

Most people in the catacombs lay within burial chambers known as ossuaries. There are many tours through them.
When you go on such tour, the catacombs look huge. And they are even bigger than they look. There are more tunnels surrounding the Catacombs.
Some estimates say there are more than 200 miles (320km) of tunnels. But not all of them have been mapped, leaving a lot of uncharted territory.

The original entrance was in Montrouge

Remember we said the city of Paris decided to bring bodies out of the city. So their initial solution was to move them to the abandoned quarry in Montrouge, a small town outside of the capital. The quarry was made up of tunnels that led into Paris.The city began moving bodies in 1785, moving the graves mostly during the night to avoid upsetting Parisians.
Nowadays, because of the large area of the Catacombs, they have expanded all the way to Paris.

People go swimming in the catacombs

If you are into some weird adrenaline adventures, the catacombs have you covered. Some people go swim in the dark murky underworld waters for fun.
They call themselves cataphiles, a group of people who enjoy spending time in the Catacombs.

Some unknown groups have run clandestine operations down there

In 2004, police men undertaking a training exercise in the Catacombs stumbled upon something unexpected. While exploring a secluded area, they discovered a giant cinema room. It was fully equipped with a screen, equipment, and a restaurant.
They were all professionally installed with phone and power lines. There was even a secret camera. Nobody knows what was the purpose, but some speculate that groups have run clandestine operations down there.

World War II and the Catacombs

During World War II, both sides used the Catacombs. The French Resistance actively used the underground tunnels as a hide out place during the war. They also planned their attacks against the Germans down in the catacombs.
The catacombs provided a hiding place and concealed the members from German spies. They allowed them to escape without being found.
But the fun part is that the Nazi also used the catacombs, for the very same reason. They built various bunkers to avoid being caught. For example, traces of the bunker beneath the Lycee Montaigne secondary school remain today.
What we can conclude is that the existence of the Catacombs of Paris was common knowledge during the war.

Makeover in the 19th century

In 1840, Napoleon III and his famous city planner Baron Haussmann decided to give Paris a facelift. They completely remodeled the city. Parts of the old city can be found in Le Marais.
What they wanted to do was open up crowded sections and introduce wide boulevards. The large scale renovations included the Catacombs as well. This is when it officially got the name The Catacombs. Napoleon and Baron named the place Paris Municipal Ossuary in 1860, and quickly after that Catacombs after the recently discovered Roman Catacombs in Italy.

Robbers used it as well

Robbers once drilled through a wall in the catacombs to rob a Parisian apartment. In 2017, the group of robbers broke into a wine cellar through underground tunnel. They stole more than 300 bottles of vintage wine. The estimated price is more than $300,000.

Bones are arranged in decorative displays

In the beginning, they threw bones into the crypt tunnels via cart. But then, someone decided to get creative.
Those working in the catacombs decided to start displaying the bones in decorative shapes. Some theories suggest they wanted to make the atmosphere lighter and more entertaining. And they succeeded in it, bringing tourists.

Farmers use them to grow mushrooms

This practice began in the 19th century. The first one to do it was Monsieur Chambery, who ventured down the tunnels and observed a patch of wild mushrooms growing within a chamber.
He tried growing his own mushrooms, button mushrooms. Soon, the Horticultural Society of Paris recognized and accepted the practice.

And then, farmers from all around flocked down there to begin farms of their own. You can still find farmers down there.
Considering the darkness and humidity down there, the catacombs definitely represent unique area for growing mushrooms.

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Thomas B.