The Movie Sleuth presents a small review and a backstory of Catacombes de Paris.
Upon traveling to Paris, France in October of 2015, my morbid curiosity was at a fever pitch realizing I could experience the Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris) first hand. Remembering the claustrophobic feel of the horror film, As Above So Below from a couple years ago, I had to see exactly what this was about. Being a person that is typically shy of close corridors, this venture was one that made me nervous but pervertedly curious at the same time. The long winding walk down a narrow steel spiral stairway that would lead to the Catacombs was enough to turn my stomach and cut right through any bit of confidence I had going into this massive underground graveyard.
These Catacombs of Paris are the largest gravesite on the planet and hold the skeletal remains of over six/seven million former French inhabitants. The bones are stacked ever so neatly in an engineered fashion that's strangely secure and revealing. In some instances, you could just imagine how some of these people may have died. With shattered skulls and sheared bones, this place is what chilling nightmares are made of.
Osseous matter is turned into ornamental designs as visitors are treated to a dread inducing venture that can only be had below the streets of Paris. Some skulls are fragmented showing the signs of traumatic death while others make the vicious mortality of school age children a reality. Seeing the remnants of actual skeletons lining the dank and damp hallways of this extremely popular tourist spot is an eerie reminder of our own fragility as well as the dark history that fills these corridors. The Catacombs are an embodiment of death that could almost be considered a work of shadowy art, capturing a certain time period in a framework of pure darkness and humility.
Sometime in the late 17th century, Paris ran out of room for in its corpses. The smell of rotting flesh filled the streets as the city's inhabitants grew weary of the possibility of disease from overflowing cemeteries. In some instances, grave sites were so over stuffed that bodies became uncovered, exposing them to nature's elements, giving funeral attendants and visitors a disgust inducing look at deteriorated human remnants. In an effort to eliminate their chances of bacterial contamination from decomposing flesh, the bodies were moved over a 12 year period. Beginning with the collapsing cemetery Les Innocents in 1786, the corpses were slowly transferred to the former limestone quarries that would later be known as Catacombes de Paris. It's estimated that the skeletal remains of nearly seven million people now rest in the hallways of the Catacombs.
Considering my previously mentioned fear of tight spaces, the Catacombs was one of the better experiences of our trip. Seeing the spots where As Above So Below was filmed was interesting considering the cramped confines of the area. Thinking about a film crew working in the limited space of this extremely popular tourist destination gave me a whole new outlook and respect for how hard it must have been to film in there. With a cool dampness, dreary soiled tones throughout and a small amount of lighting, the Catacombs could never be an easy spot to film a movie. Somehow, they pulled it off.
I can't recommend this destination enough. If you're a horror fan such as myself, this area will pique your interest and satisfy the curiosities that hold true to the genre as a whole. This is a cavernous walk through a historical landmark that will undoubtedly satiate your thirst and desire for the horrific. And it's real. This is no movie. The Catacombs offer an insightful look at how small we are and how long we've been here, bones stacked upon bones. For the willful horrorhound, this is one site you must experience for yourself. And buy some genuine absinthe on the way out.
More photos from the Empire of the Dead.
(click to enlarge)