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A Big Pile of Bones Under Paris

When we started putting together the list of things we wanted to do in Paris, visiting the catacombs was high on the list. I really had no idea what to expect before starting a bit of research on the big pile of bones that lies beneath Paris. Going to see a pile of bones is cool but it’s even more interesting when you consider some of the history.By the 17th century, Paris was having some big issues with where to put it’s dead bodies. Cemeteries around churches were getting full and things were getting messy. Cemeteries had layers to them because there was no where else to put the bodies. They needed a solution.Alexandre Lenoir, the Police Lieutenant General overseeing the consolidation of the abandoned mines under Paris at the time, had the idea of moving the deceased into the mines to create more room. So from 1786 to 1788 the bones of all Paris’ dead were moved into the mines under what is now Denfert-Rochereau near the south gate to the city. In all, the bones from some 6 million dead were moved from the cemeteries into the mines or what is commonly referred to as the Catacombs. From 1867 on they were opened to the public on a regular basis as a tourist attraction.Creepy stuff eh.We took the metro down to Denfert-Rochereau and popped up on the street wondering where the catacomb entrance was going to be. I had read that it was hard to find and some people had spent a good amount of time trying to find it. Either they were looking for a difference entrance than we were at or they didn’t have a large lineup signaling the entrance because as soon as we turned around we spotted the large line for the catacombs.There was something on the sign about 26 year olds and under getting in for half price. I’m not sure if that was supposed to be a discount for under 26 year olds from EU countries like some of the other attractions but we showed some ID and got in for 4 euro instead of 8. I certainly wasn’t balking at 8 euro to get into something this cool so 4 was even better.Right by the entrance, a tiny spiral staircase started it’s decent of over 100 steps. Finally emerging at the bottom into the museum part of the catacombs, we could read a bit about the history in a well lit underground area. We quickly moved on to the underground tunnels that wound its way over a bit of the 2 km that you walk through the tunnels.The tunnels continued on for a while and we began to wonder how many bones we were actually going to see. Rounding a last corner, we were greeted with a creepy sign above the entrance to the ossuary. Stepping through the door, we saw hundreds and hundreds of femurs and skulls piled neatly almost to the ceiling. The bones lined both sides of the tunnel as far as you could see. It was tough getting a good photo without flashes but the small lights provided enough light for some decent ones.I’m sure we didn’t walk past the bones of 6 million people but there were still many. I’m not sure where all the other parts were, all we saw were the leg bones stacked up and the skulls in patterns along the way or stacked on top. We easily saw a few thousands skulls. Makes you wonder how many more hallways and rooms are full of all the other bones that they don’t show you.We picked up our pace a little bit near the end as the roof was starting to trip and the floor was getting weather. I brought an older pair of shoes as well as a brand new white pair to France with me and I’m sure glad I wasn’t wearing the white pair. Our shoes had a good splattering of mud and bone dust on them when we got to the end.We had started to ascend before we hit the final staircase but it was still another 80 steps up another tiny staircase back up to the surface.A small price to pay to wander through the halls of the catacombs among the bones of 6 million dead Parisians.