Read, Write, Run, Roam

Creepy, er, Crypty Paris


Paris is wonderful to visit, but hard to write about. The city of lights is host to a million clichés that have already been expressed in countless paintings, movies and books. What’s a blogger to do?

Most would forget about writing and spend their time soaking in the romance of the city and eating lots of excellent food. However, I’m not most bloggers (though I did eat excellent food.) Forget romance! I set out to find a different kind of Paris—creepy Paris.

Or more specifically, Crypty Paris.

The Paris Catacombs are a 15th century mining tunnel that became home to six million skeletons between 1785 and 1860. Apparently, the local cemeteries were getting so full that the city began suffering from health problems. I won’t get into the gross details, but the King moved remains to abandoned quarry tunnels beneath the city to improve public health (or open up some much-needed real estate, depending on your cynicism.) Despite controversy at the time, remains were relocated to spend their corporal eternity under the bustling streets of Denfert-Rochereau, an otherwise charming, ordinary, section of Paris.

Is it weird? Yes. Did I want to see it? Of course.

So did other people. We got there and waited in line for about 30 minutes. I tried to get in the zone for Creepy Paris, but the beautiful weather was distracting. Also distracting: the Jean-Paul Gaultier promotional Diet Coke cans that adorable Parisian teens were passing out to the crowd.

Decidedly not creepy.

At least the entry sign put us in a creepy state of mind: “The tour could make a strong impression on…people of a nervous disposition,” it read. Okay, not exactly scary. But scarier than the Diet Coke. I wondered if my effort to find Creepy Paris would be a bust. At this point, the scariest thing was the threat of a bakery selling out of pan au chocolat.

We entered the catacomb  tunnel and walked for about 400 meters, craning our heads at every nook to see bones. We needn’t have worried. It’s pretty hard to miss the sign reading, “Stop! This is the empire of the dead.”

We entered the crypt path between a low wall of carefully arranged tibias and skulls that hid a more random arrangement behind them. The sheer number of bones piled along the walk was striking; reading that six million people are buried here is no comparison to walking among them.

I found the first few minutes interesting. Then it felt odd. Finally it was, well, creepy. I don’t mind skeletons: readers may recall that I visited an ossuary (vocabulary alert!) outside Prague last summer. Yet the combination of poor lighting, a tunnel, and almost a mile of bones forced me to develop an uneasy peace with catacomb residents. I avoided puddles and any chance of brushing up against the bones. There was a decidedly musty smell that (I told myself) had more to do with moisture than rotting bones. The worst part was my one nagging thought: where are the rats?  Muz said he thought about an earthquake. Apparently the creepiest thing about the crypt wasn’t the remains, but our own morbid imaginations.

We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves blinking in a sunny side street in Paris, surrounded by people who either didn’t know, or didn’t care, about the city of bones beneath them. Creepy–or just a fact of life (death)?

We could’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about the meaning of life and the existential quotes carved into the catacomb walls, but chose to focus on a scarier idea: what if we left Paris before visiting a true pastry shop? Now THAT was a creepy thought in Paris.

Was this post not creepy,  I mean, “crypty” enough for you? Check out these boney-fied tourist destinations from National Geographic HERE

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