I’ve always been that type of person that loves adventure, but today, I may have gotten a little more than I bargained for. When I came to Paris I expected there would be lots of coffee drinking, people watching and museum going, but when my friend, Cat, who I am staying with, told me about going to the catacombs under the city, I jumped at the opportunity. How often do you get to see something like that?
A Little History of the Paris Catacombs
The Catacombs around Paris where originally built as ancient quarries where the limestone to create most of the amazing Parisian architecture was mined from. Most of the excavations are located at the base of the three “mountains”: Montparnasse, Montrouge and Montsouris. Once the city started to semi-collapse because of the quarries, teams of architects and engineers were sent down there to create structures, archways and pillars to literally hold the city up. Then at the end of the 18th century, the government began converting several subterranean rooms into mass graves. This was necessary to meet desperate overcrowding in the medieval cemeteries in the center of Paris, which also became a health hazard.
I have heard of the organized catacombs tours that you can pay upwards of 7 Euro (~$9.00) for and I have always thought that was an interesting idea, but what Cat was proposing was far from a run of the mill trip.
She has had the good fortune of hooking up with a group of Urban Explorers here in Paris that love to source out and scour all the unknown spots in Europe in order to take AMAZING photos and well, explore, you can check out their work here.
This morning I was woken up Uber early, which is REALLY tough when you are a bit jet lagged. Then I was told to have a big breakfast and LOTS of coffee. We wouldn’t be back for quite a while. What was I getting myself into?
After breakfast, we carried all sorts of stuff, sweaters, waders, headlamps and helmets to the spot where we were to enter the catacombs. At this point, I was starting to get a little nervous. What did I have to protect myself from? I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But just then our fearless guides turned on a little appropriate Eastern European tunneling music and we were ready to go!
What I saw down there, blew my mind! Growing up in New York City where there are probably 10 rats per New Yorker, I was pretty shocked at how clean and tidy it is down there. The walls of the catacombs are made with limestone and the ground is covered with powdery white sand from the limestone’s disintegration. Don’t get me wrong, this place isn’t Aruba, it is actually PITCH DARK down there, our headlamps and carbide lamps where the only light we had, except for the occassional candle that we lit when we were taking a break in one of the salles or rooms.
There were so many rooms, it was incredible! People, namely Cataphiles, those who love the Catacombs, have for hundreds of years created spaces to hang out in down there. Some of them are equipped with fountains, “swimming” pools and lanterns. Many of them have hand made sculptures carved out of the limestone walls. What is incredible is that each of these “rooms” has been a labor of love for someone. They have to come often, year after year to sweep, hammer away, stack and cement these rooms together. The results are really incredible.
La Salle Z
Lantern in La Salle Du Lanterne
La Salle de Le Cabinet Minéralogique
La Salle Aux Chapelles
Salle De Chateau
And because we were traveling French style, in each salle that we would stop at we busted out a snack, it was the most well fed on an adventure I have ever felt. We started with meats, cheeses and sandwiches, and ended with apples and bits of dark chocolate on crusty French bread.
In between Salles the travelling through the tunnels was sometimes grueling. the ceiling heights routinely went from about 12-15 feet, or more in big archways to 3-4 feet where we had to get on our hands and knees and wiggle through crannies.
To say I am exhausted afterwards is an understatement. After taking a shower and sharing a congratulatory bottle of red wine, I am ready to jump into bed, where I am sure I will sleep like a baby.
Check out the video I just cut together of our adventure here:
For more photos of the Paris Catacombs check out my album here!
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