“On neither the sun, nor death, can a man look fixedly,” 17th century French author François de La Rochefoucauld once said. Clearly, he hadn’t envisaged that people would later pay good money to stare at the skeletons in Paris’ catacombs.
In fairness, De La Rochefoucauld died long before the catacombs opened to the public in the early 1800s. They contain the remains of around six million people.
They fill the renovated tunnels beneath Place Denfert-Rochereau, in the 14th arrondissement. The idea came about when Le Cimetière des Innocents, near Saint-Eustache church by Les Halles, became overcrowded and the source of disease. The city decided to rebury its dead in quarries and mines on its outskirts.
For two years, from 1786, skeletons were transferred by cart at night to Place Denfert-Rochereau.
Originally, they were reburied in a haphazard fashion, but from 1810, they began to be stacked in the pattern we see now.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to see them during my recent visit to Paris. It was raining the morning we went, and the queue was ridiculously long, circling around the block. And it didn’t appear to be moving.
It’s a morbid treat I’ll have to save until the next time.