Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Les Catacombs

When we asked around for advice about what to see and do in Paris with toddler, our friends, namely D & I (and mostly D) emphatically told us to visit the Catacombs. Oddly enough, some people we talked to had never even heard of the Catacombs. (I knew about them from my obsession with the book AND musical Les Miserables)

I was intrigued with seeing something so unique. Basically, the catacombs are long underground tunnels made from old quarries from the late 18th century. They built the catacombs because the cemeteries in Paris were filling up and and were thought to be causing disease in the nearby residents. So, the politicians at the time condemned the cemeteries and placed all of the skeletons to be respectfully displayed here. You can read more about the history here.

As we entered, I began to question my sanity of bringing myself and my small child here. Nervous disposition?

"Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead."

The tunnels are long, dark and narrow. The Scientist's 191 cm had to duck his head more often than my 170cm frame. If you are claustrophobic in the slightest, I would skip out on this attraction.

The first thing we saw were these beautiful carvings that a worker did while carving out these tunnels. The sign said while he was imprisoned, he saw these buildings everyday and carved them out from memory.

As you walk around, the bones are skulls are artisitically displayed in different shapes.


I don't know what this was but it was hauntingly beautiful. Yes, those are all bones in the background.

Many famous people were buried here. Among them Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry.

I paid my respects...by lighting a candle and acknowledging that oxygen helped it to burn. :)

I did enjoy seeing this amazing sight. Evidently, these tunnels were only a small fraction of the tunnels underneath Paris. I read reports that 300 km more exist. Baby Bird was very interested in "skulls and bones" and didn't seem the least bit frightened. I wouldn't always recommend taking your children here but you parents out there know your kids and only you can decide if they can handle this or not.

Be aware if you decide to visit. The tunnels were long (1.7km or ~1 mile) and the steps to get down and up (20m or 66ft!) were steep and cumbersome. Be also aware that the entrance is not that close to the exit. Be sure to bring a map.

Around six million people are buried here and I tried to remind myself that each one of those bones was a person; peasants buried with nobles, farmers buried with scientists. Each one had a story to tell. Be respectful as those who are here made it possible for the Paris above to expand and prosper.

Note: I have had a few people tell me they almost had their camera confiscated when they took pictures here but we didn't have any problems. There seemed to be an official person hanging around and he only told us not to use a flash. He shined his flashlight whenever anyone wanted to take a picture.

1 comment:

lettershometoyou said...

Fascinating place. I've found that little kids are far more intrigued than frightened by the subject of bones and dead people.