16 December 2012

Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)

The catacombs of Paris are the largest underground necropolis in the world. Before it was a mass grave, today's necropolis was a rock quarry. The monuments of Paris are all built with limestone quarried from below the streets of Paris. The quarries faded from memory until hundreds of years ago when the streets of Paris began to collapse into the underground quarries. Around the same time, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents, the Saints Innocents Cemetery, became a health hazard because there were too many dead bodies. To solve the problem of collapsing streets and too many dead bodies, the quarries were quickly reinforced and turned into a mass grave.

There are six million people buried under the streets of Paris. Exactly. Trust me, I counted.

Initially, the bones and skulls were dumped haphazardly into the catacombs, but later they were arranged more respectfully, or at least artfully. Despite space enough for more than six million skeletons, the catacombs represent only 1/800 of all the underground quarries in Paris.

Catacombs of Paris; Catacombes de Paris.

Catacombs of Paris; Catacombes de Paris.

Catacombs of Paris; Catacombes de Paris.

Skulls, bones, with more skulls, some more bones, and then a few skulls and bones.

I think skulls are kinda awesome, so I give the Catacombs of Paris two thumbs up.

Decúre, the man who built this sculpture in the ossuary between the years 1777 and 1782, was eventually crushed underground, when the earth collapsed on top him while trying to build a stairwell at this same location. The sculpture, built from memory, represents Port Mahon, the capital of Minorca, located in the autonomous Balearic Islands, off the coast of Spain.

Catacombs of Paris; Catacombes de Paris.

Typical plaque in the catacombs.

Catacombs of Paris; Catacombes de Paris.

The ossuary contains dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands of underground markers, so that workers could orient themselves, below ground, with the streets of Paris above. For those interested in etymology, apparently Montsouris evolves from moque souris, which translates as "mock mice," a nod to the rodent population of Paris.

The entrance to the ossuary.