Kayla Cardwell
ARTH 2010-W91
Amy Evans
A Bone to Pick
The catacombs walls are very structured in they way they were built, the walls hold a lot of history, and the catacombs today are a very large tourist attraction. The Catacombs are located in Paris, France. Paris is not all about romance and love. Paris’ medieval vibe was once overwhelming. By the seventeenth century it was in fact, so overwhelming that there were literally dead bodies filling the streets. They then had the idea to move the rotting corps into the underground limestone quarries that were made in the thirteenth century when Paris was being built. Louis XV tried to move all cemeteries out of Paris for this very reason. Churches fought for them to stay, as it is wrong to move the dead. Residents often complained about the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh that filled the air. Perfume shops in the area complained that even they could not operate business properly because of the unusual putrid smell. This continued for years, as nothing was done about the cemeteries until 1780.
The remains weren’t just thrown underground never to been seen again. No, they were artfully placed on the walls throughout all of the underground quarries. The tunnels cover right at 4.3 miles under Paris. Mazes and twists and turns throughout are all covered floor to ceiling with neatly stacked bones including human skulls. Despite the obvious eerie nature, the catacombs are actually quite beautiful. Patterns were even created using the bones such as a cross and heart.
A big storm hits Paris in the 1700s causing the ground to rise. The corpses of millions of Parisians rose with it at an astounding eight feet above the street level. The streets were literally being filled with dead bodies. Residents in the area were getting diseases from the water and other supply that was being contaminated by this. Between 1786 and 1788, city officials agreed to have the cemeteries moved to the underground quarries beneath Paris. Priests blessed the tunnels below before any of the remains were moved. Taking place at night, the bones were silently moved on carts followed by a parade of priests. There are now roughly six to seven million people buried within the catacombs. There were some disagreements of this by neighboring churches due to beliefs that the dead must stay where they were laid to rest. After disease and the sickening smell of the dead filled the streets however, this decision was a lot easier to make. Among the millions that were buried, there were a handful of famous people. According to Erin McCarthy, a writer for New York Times, “A number of notable people buried in those cemeteries likely had their bones transferred to the Catacombs. The list includes writers Jean de La Fontaine (Fables) and Charles Perrault (known for fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Puss in Boots), painter Simon Vouet, and architect Salomon de Brosse (who designed the city\'s Luxembourg Palace)” (McCarthy, “Spending Time Among the Bones of Paris’s Catacombs).
The Catacombs today attract numerous tourists. Thousands upon thousands of thrill seekers come to Paris each year for the tour of a lifetime. It is now widely known as one of the scariest places on earth. After closing the cemetery off for burials, city officials decided it would make an exotic experience for tourists. For around $11 one can take the forty-five minute guided or unguided tour underground. Only few are allowed in at a time due to lack of oxygen below. Tourists are only welcome to 2.1 miles of the Catacombs. The rest of the winding tunnels are closed off and made illegal for public entrance. Apparently, it is quite easy to become lost within the tunnels.