30 June 2010

Empire of the Dead under Paris.

There's a macabre underbelly to Paris that is rarely exposed. These are the ossuaries, or catacombs, a maze of subterranean tunnels 20m below the streets of the Left Bank's Place Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th arrondissement.

Today they hold the bones of around six million Parisians transported to the catacombs when the old cemeteries were overwhelmed.It is not surprising. By the time the city fathers decided at the end of the 18th century that something had to be done about Paris' overflowing cemeteries, the dead were literally bursting from the earth.

The stench of shallow graves ruined milk and spoiled wine in casks, and in turn, created more corpses as disease spread.The answer was to remove the bodies and transport them in the dead of night, by covered wagons or horse-drawn hearse and accompanied by chanting priests, to the city of darkness.

Initially, the bones were thrown together until they filled the chambers; eventually, they were re-stacked in what the French call "romantic-macabre" order that we see today. The transfers stopped in 1860.

Public visits began in 1814, only to be discontinued briefly because of vandalism and people wandering off into the darkness.It's a problem that remains for, despite the danger and the fines, unofficial explorers – or ktaphiles – make unauthorised incursions into the subterranean network and post their feats on websites.

MORE  Ossuaries throughout the world


These  stunning examples of ossuaries remind us that life is fleeting, but some part of us can live on in this world.


  1. That's so WEIRD...
    Not only did they stack the bones neatly, but it seems they applied a sort of ..."artfulness" to it.
    Trying to imagine whose job it was to do that and what made them do it in such a way.

    Will check out the other sites later... it's fascinating!
    You manage to find the most interesting and unusual things to post, Ang.
    Good job!

  2. Thanks very much Jen. Ive had criticism in the past because I don't post alot about myself here on my site, but I post what Im comfy to post.. . and these things I find fascinating.

    Last night I saw a segment on a documentary about the ossuaries in Paris and thought I would do some more research online tonight and share it here with anyone who cared to read it.

    The picture above shows how the leg bones have been stacked.. with a few skulls... last nights television program explained how leg bones were stacked in one place, arms in another .. skulls in another etc. But yes, as you suggested.. there seems to be some "art form" in the stacking of bones in this picture.. ( LOL perhaps it broke the monotony for the workers.

    Still have your house guests (wasps)?.. please be careful removing them.. Id have someone come in and take care of it, for your own safety Jen

  3. My long lost ancestors could be part of that.

    *mouth hangin open in awe*

  4. I prefer the topside of Paris ... even the Metro is ominous ...

  5. So that's what happened during the Revolution!

  6. Ok so you need to watch The Da Vinci Code... and Angels And Demons.. not to mention one of the indiana Jones movies, where they film in the catacombs.
    Oh and I watched Phantom Of The Opera a few weeks ago, its very romantic for sure lol

  7. I watch a program called "Cities Of The Underworld" and they did a whole show on this...totally interesting and as ronnie said above, macabre. As a side note, Louis the XIV (Marie Antoinette's hubby) built the Palace D' Versailles on what was then the outskirts of Paris to get away from the garbage, stench and the overflow of bodies in central Paris.

  8. Thanks for the info on Cities of the Unerworld, Helen, Ive googled for some info on it. I see you can purchase season 1 and season 2 episodes on dvd. .. they have a feacebook site ( but not much to view there really) I thought I may have a look and see if there is something on You tube.. I think Id enjoy watching it.

    And no I didnt realise tht Palace DVersailles was built for that reason .. they did mention it breifly in the program. They were saying how the palace's walls were removed as it had once been surrounded by a very high stone fence.