Tourists flock to Paris, France every year. It is a historic city, and there are numerous sight-seeing attractions. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the grave of Jim Morrison all attract thousands of visitors, but one of the biggest tourist attractions is situated in the dark depths below the city streets. The Paris catacombs, officially called les carrieres de Paris, or the quarries of Paris, is not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart.
A labyrinth of winding tunnels lies deep beneath the Paris boulevards. In Roman times, they were originally lime stone quarries. In 1786, these quarries were turned into mass burial graves. The original cemeteries in the center of Paris were rife with contamination and disease due to improper burials. The remains from many Parisian cemeteries were ordered to be moved discreetly to the quarries.
There are around 186 miles (300 km) of tunnels that make up the Paris catacombs. Some are open to the public, but many are restricted and cannot be toured. Some of the tunnels are extremely narrow and prone to flooding. This does not deter some intrepid visitors from entering through hidden entrances to the tunnels dotted around Paris. Secret entrances can be found through the sewers of Paris or through manholes in the street.
The official entrance to the Paris catacombs is a simple door in a small building. From there, you climb down a long, spiral staircase and begin walking through the dark, winding tunnels. Then take a deep breath as you enter another chamber marked with a plaque reading, Arrête! Cest ici l'empire de la mort, Stop! This is the empire of death.
Your eyes may take a few seconds to adjust to the sight that will greet you. The walls are packed with human skeletons, stacked one on top of the other. Skulls and stacks of bones are arranged inside these walls, some piles reaching as high as 5 feet (1.5 m). The depth of the cavernous walls at some points reaches 20 yards (18 m), all filled with skeletal remains.
The official route for visitors is about a mile long (1.5km), but the actual burials reach much further into the Paris catacombs. There are thought to be around six million skeletons in the Paris catacombs. None of the remains are marked, and the skeletons are mixed together haphazardly. The bones of peasants are mixed in with those of the gentry. In the Paris catacombs, there is no class distinction.
Anyone caught in forbidden areas of the tunnels faces a fine, but the temptation to explore the Paris catacombs unescorted has proven too much for some people. There have been stories of catacomb parties, and there are even rumors that certain people live in the tunnels. If visiting Paris, it is well worth a trip to the Paris catacombs. As long as you have a strong constitution and do not stray from the official route, you should make it out safely.