Victims of the black plaque, epidemics, starvations, of all the wars since the Middle Ages rest in the city’s 200 cemeteries, piled up on several levels in the mass graves of the churches. Every day, new cadavers join the previous ones. Paris is flooded by the dead, the odor is unbearable. — The Paris Catacombs
Naturally legend and lore abound in the catacombs. Victor Hugo used his knowledge about the system in Les Miserables. The dead from the riots in the Place de Greve, the Hotel de Brienne, and Rue Meslee reside in the catacombs. Walls are decorated with graffiti dating back to the 18th century. During WW11, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system to hide.
The underground system is a structural nightmare. The tunnels are carefully monitored and consolidation work continues. Because of the various safety issues, only a small portion of the quarries is open to the public. The system is complex and confusing. Some tunnels do have plaques indicating the name of the street above, but it’s very easy to get lost among the bones. Although it’s illegal to access the catacombs unescorted, secret entrances exist throughout the city. The system is accessible via the sewers, metro, and certain manholes.
And there are people who would love to explore the hidden system, myself included. As dark and sad as it may be, hundreds of years of history lies beneath the city of Paris. Journalist Matt O’Brien and author of Beneath The Neon: Life and Death in the Las Vegas Tunnels, told me the Quarries of Paris were high on his list to explore some day.
What about you? Would you venture underground to see the bones of the past?