If you descend beneath the streets of Paris you will discover one of the city’s most unique attractions. The final resting place of six million Parisians, the catacombs are not for the faint of heart! Sixty-five feet beneath the streets, its narrow subterranean passageways date back to the 13th century, when they were used to mine the limestone that helped build the city. By the late 18th century, these old quarries were beginning to collapse under the weight of a rapidly expanding Paris. At the same time, the cemeteries at the center French capital were faced with overcrowding. The catacombs were seen as a solution that would solve both problems. Moving old remains underground into the mines prevented them from collapse and eased crowding at the cemeteries. The catacombs have been a site of fascination ever since they opened in the early 19th century and remain open today as one of the city’s most unique attractions.
The expanse and depth of the catacombs are unimaginable. Some swear they’re 300 km (185 miles) long, but others suggest they might be 500 km (310 miles). It is also believed that they cover a total area of 11, 000 square metres. Some Parts Of The Catacombs Are Not Open To Visitors
Due to their extensive depth, the catacombs cannot be fully explored. In fact, many areas within it have restricted access and are difficult to get to. The part open to the public is called the Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary, which forms a small area of the entire catacomb network. However, there is a community of enthusiasts who like exploring the catacombs called cataphiles. They frequently traverse them as much as they can, sometimes even exploring the parts blocked off/not open to the public. Please note that these parts are not safe and should not be explored.
At the last count is said to be over 6 million bodies which is much more than the 2 million people living in Paris. Hence, there are more dead people below the city than alive above ground. If this isn’t one of the eeriest Paris catacombs facts, then I don’t know what else is. If you’re ready for another one of the Paris catacombs’ scary facts, here it is. Paris has a pair of tollhouses on its outskirts that were former city gates called Barrière d’Enfer (Gate of Hell). The structures remain, although they are no longer used for their intended purpose. Some say the gates were named after the street Rue d’Enfer, infamous for nefarious activities. Others say it could be because of the material used to build them (en fer which translates to “of iron”).
During World War II when Germany occupied France, the French Resistance took advantage of the Catacombs below their capital and used them as hideouts since the underground tunnels and hidden pathways made for the perfect hiding spot. However, the French Resistance was not the only one to see the Catacombs as good hiding spots. The Germans too used them, evident from the German bunkers found there. At one point, it was discovered that tents from both parties were not so far away from one another. Part of the Tunnels of The Catacomb is still unmapped. Since the catacombs were mines earlier, miners kept digging further in different directions to unearth more stones but no one kept track of how far they dug or how much was being dug. Slowly, it became a maze of unmapped tunnels.
During the French revolution, Philibert Aspairt, a doorman/porter at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital accidentally entered the Catacombs through the staircase that was in the hospital’s courtyard and got lost below. He couldn’t be found for years until a group of cataphiles found him 11 years later, albeit dead. In fact, tragically, his body was found near an exit which proves that Philibert was close to escaping from the tunnels. He was buried in the same place he was found with the tombstone inscription describing the tragic incident. And while you can’t see his burial place since it’s in the restricted area of the catacombs, it’s still important to know about this tragic incident.