Catacombs are the subject of a lot of interest and fascination; with deep cultural roots in Paris’ history, many tourists, travellers and curious minds set off to explore these mysterious and intriguing formations that lie below our very feet. It’s a bizarre concept – and yet something that has enriched the history and tradition of many European countries – with the concentration being on Paris at this current time.
Catacombs are a network of underground caves, which were primarily used for mining back in the 19th century. Paris’ “Catacombes de Paris” was an underground ossuary which holds over 6 million bodies! Quite a strange though – to think of all the history and culture located just below the ground and just below your feet. Situated at the city’s former gate, the grounds have been open to the general public since 1874 and haven’t been something “hidden” for a long time. On one occasion, the tunnels were closed in September 2009 following vandalism but the underground tunnels were once again reopened to the public the same year in December.
Are there any restrictions in place?
Yes, as you’d expect – in 1955 a ban was initiated to restrict anyone to “penetrate into or circulate within” the rest of the network. As you can imagine – these tunnels could be used for all sorts of trading and illegal use – so a restriction needed to be put into place. However this hasn’t prevented groups of people letting their curiosity get the better of them! From secret societies to black market traders, the caves are secretly and illegally frequented outside public tours, making them a hugely controversial subject in the city.
So what discovered uses have there been?
Police discovered a secret cinema set up in one of the underground caves, without a clue as to who was responsible for it! Police officers were said to of stumbled cross the site during a training day underneath the Palais De Challiot! It was reported that there were two swastikas painted on the ceiling, as well as Stars of David and Celtic crosses, which fortunately, ruled out the possibility of them being extremists. Police were led to suspect a secret society operating meetings and gatherings, in the neatly curtained off underground amphitheatre which had terraces cut into the rock as well as chairs! The secret cinema discovered, was disguised well with a sign warning building work. If intruders were spotted on a set up video set, a tape of a dog barking would play to scare them away. It doesn’t stop there, with an inbuilt informal restaurant and bar the mysterious culprits behind the whole operation had a professionally installed electricity system with three phone lines. Police returned three days later, electricity lines were cut with note with the words “Do not try to find us”.
Cataphiles are known to be groups of people who frequent the underground caves at night! To be a cataphile you have to depend upon feline nerves, as you navigate your way through the darkness of the underground caves! Cataphiles are said to descend into the dark caves with a thirst for the secretive underworld and the history in store and inscribed on the walls! It has become more of a rumour and city-myth more than anything else – but there are even Hollywood movie’s being based upon the people who feel compelled to explore the underground mazes of Paris.
Will they ever be closed?
It is unlikely that the Catabombs of Paris will ever become completely closed. Because they provide a tourist attraction and add value to the city itself – it would be a shame to deprive people of knowledge about this part of the country’s history.
This look at the subterranean passages of Paris was written for us by Alton Breaks, who are counting the days till their next Scarefest.