I figured it was better to write about this trip just before Halloween. According to Times Magazine the Catacombs of Paris are one of the top ten scary places to see. We can understand the why.
I don’t know if I would call it scary, but it is disturbing and it can be a trigger for some.
We decided to go, and discovered a queue around the block after being opened for only 45 mins. We did not want to wait that long. We checked on line and discovered that the queue could be 3-4 hours long. Dilemma… do we go and wait that long for a historical event or not. I was so-so, but Magpie wanted to go see. The problem is patience in the wait and how to past the time. Enter facebook and asking whether others would wait that long for a historical site. Sorry Brent I am ignoring your response – cheeky fellow. Most said yes with suggestions for audio books which was doable and brilliant for the wait. The suggestion was met with a seal of approval – obviously not my issue – and I started working on transferring audiobooks onto the ipod. The other thing needed was food. We cannot go anywhere without extra food and water.
We also planned on being there an hour and half before it opened. It meant setting an alarm with the phone. The alarms on never trustable, but it did work this time.
We arrived an hour and 15 mins before it opened and there was already a line up. Magpie took a seat on the bench and started listening. We watched the queue get longer and longer and wrap around the block. It was really amazing to watch people arrive and get into line. We were not the first group in but entered as the second group – much to Magpie’s chagrin.
It is a long way down a very narrow staircase and you enter a small open area with the following facts on wall boards before you get into the corridors.
In the late 1700s, the largest cemetery in Paris was being closed for public health reasons – it was too full. At the request of the local residents, the State Council decreed that the human remains had to be removed. The quarry department was given the task of finding a new site. It was decided that the abandoned limestone quarries which were situated under the city would be the new storage site. The practice was continued until 1860. At the beginning of the 19th century the catacombs were opened to the public for the first time.
The bones were grouped by the cemetery they came from so people could pay their respects, though the bones were tossed in until the priests asked if it could be a little more descent. The bones were stacked neatly and some were given a little creativity.
There is a highlight in the tour called the Port-Mahon corridor. It was created by Decure who was a quarryman who had fought in the armies of Louis XV. He sculpted the fortress of Port-Mahon into the walls of the quarry. Port-Mahon is the largest town on the island of Minorca where it is believed that he was held prisoner by the English.
Another site in the tour is the Quarrymen’s foot bath which is a body of crystal clear groundwater which was found by the quarry workers. They then used the water to mix the cement used in the Catacombs.
There are many different sites along the corridors of the Catacombs, though one that stood out for us was the Crypt of the Passion: the barrel. The barrel is made from skulls and shin bones to hide a pillar supporting the ceiling of the Catacombs.
On the 2nd April 1897, between midnight and 2am, a clandestine concert took place attended by scientists, scholars, artists and some distinguished wealthy people. Unfortunately for the two workers that let them in, they were fired when their names were discovered.
The exit out is an 18th century stairway that passes up through coloured stripes of cement chambers to show the alternating geological layers. Of course we did not have a map and had no idea where we were when we popped out.
Normally any bags or knapsacks you are carrying are searched as you leave to make sure you are not nicking any souvenirs. The first thing Magpie noticed was the fact we were not searched. The first thing I noticed…. I did not have a clue of where we were. We walked and eventually found the entrance. Luckily we went the right way.
Our thoughts on the Catacombs included the interesting and disturbing and a little long. If you are afraid of small places, narrow tunnels, little light and lots and lots of bones – there is a total of 6,000,000 bones there – thats right 6 million!
Initially it is more educational and then you make it to the Ossuary. Everyone is trying to take pictures – I felt a little morbid at doing this and eventually we did stop as it just did not seem right to either one of us. The only problem with everyone taking pictures are the flashes. I prefer the existing light photos and being around people can be a pain when taking photos. Magpie was good at letting me know when a good composition was available. We also tend to walk a little faster to get away from the groups of people. At one point Magpie sees a skull and says “Mom, look, he was shot in the head. I can see the bullet hole.” I was thinking “oh goody” and wishing I was not here.
Was it worth the wait, yes but, once you got going it did get redundant. Once we did think we were lost in the catacombs. That was a little unnerving being with all these bones and realizing that we had not seen another living person around us for awhile. The path was not that well marked once you got within the bone area. When we thought we were on the wrong path was when we really wanted to get out, luckily we were close to the end.
I would like to know if anyone has been here and what their experience was like.