Above: Skulls and bones in the Paris catacombs.
“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort.”
“Halt, this is the realm of death,” the carving above the entrance to the elaborate labyrinth reads.
To set the mood:
It’s dark: the light from incandescent bulbs casting hard shadows. It’s warm and damp: 130 tight steps and 20 meters, or 63 feet, below the streets of paris – the temperature rises as water drops from the ceiling. It’s huge: The ossuary under Paris is the world’s largest, with over 2 kilometers of walkways and more then 6 million skeletons!
Originally a limestone quarry – likely where the stone to build Notre Dame Cathedral was mined – earth this deep dates from the Lutetian period, between 48 and 40 million years ago. During the French revolution there was a land grab, and cemeteries surrounding churches were dug up. The bones were then stacked in piles underground, and on April 7, 1786, the catacombs were established.