Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death…
Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort
Paris may have more bones than wine!
Most of the European world may already know about the Catacombs of Paris or the “les carrières de Paris” that are home to some 6 million dead souls. For the rest of us, this may come as a surprise. You may be saying something like, “Are you kidding?”
Nope! It’s true. Beneath the metropolis Paris, France is an underground network of caverns and tunnels which are the remnants of the Parisian stone mines and home to the dead.
After a 1777 collapse in the earth beneath Les Innocents, the city’s cemetery, it was passed into law that the unearthed remains would be brought to the catacombs. The headstones, bones, sculptures and other artifacts from the former cemetery were made into a makeshift museum of the dead.
The opening ceremony on the 7th day of April in 1785 began the nightly procession of black covered wagons transporting millions of deceased Parisians between Les Innocents and the ‘clos de la Tombe-Issoire’. It took 2 years to transport the bodies from most of Paris’ cemeteries.
In 1810 renovations were made to transform the museum into a mausoleum that people could visit. The skulls were stacked and femurs placed into patterns (as they are today), and artifacts from the Tombe-Issoire property were used to decorate the memorial. There is also a room dedicated to minerals found in Paris’ underground and another room displaying deformities of skeletal remains that were excavated during the renovations.
This underground cemetery has been opened to the public since 1874 and as of January 1, 2013 has been entered into the Paris Musées, public institution of Paris Museums.
Visiting the Catacombs of Paris:
The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris’s former Barrière d’Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channeling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France’s Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”).
Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibiae; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created ‘keg’ bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other ‘monuments’ created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised “La Samaritaine” because of later-added engravings. -Wikipedia