Friday, April 24, 2015

Haunted Paris Catacombs, the City of Bones- Explore at your own risk!

     The City of the Dead awaits you, ironically below the City of Lights, Paris. Paris, France is a beautiful and thriving city.  It wasn't always that way.  It, like most places, has it's own history, dark past and many stories. I have always been fascinated by the Paris Catacombs, or the "L'Empire de la Mort," meaning "Empire of the Dead," as it is called. That seems to be a fitting name. They claim, like a multitude of other places, all over the world, to be among the top haunted places in the world. Upon seeing the labyrinth of human bones, it's not hard to believe that there could be restless spirits, wandering the catacombs, lost within the mazes.  Officials began placing the remains of the dead French people there in the late 18th century.  Over time, they have been rearranged into what is regarded now as an incredible metaphorical work of art. There are even dozens of you tube videos claiming to have captured ghosts that roam the labyrinth of bones.  There are countless articles on the ghost legends, and I'm going to explore them with you!  This is a place that will satisfy your spookiest cravings.  There is even a Pere Lachaise walking tour that runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Entrance sign for Catacombs

     The Catacombs of Paris are a network of tunnels and caves that run for more than 190 miles (300 km) under the city, making it a bad, even dreadful, place to ever get lost, to say the least.  The Romans were actually the first to quarry the limestone in the area in 60 B.C.F., however, they were the open air quarries-they just dug out the rock that was exposed.  As the city grew and covered the landscape, tunneling would be necessary to acquire more building materials. In 1180 C.E., Philippe Auguste became King and was the major proponent of tunneling to quarry in order to build ramparts to protect the city.  It was under his rule that this tunnel network would be born.

     The quarries expanded in size and complexity and produced building materials for centuries to come. Though, as this continued, it wasn't thought through.  In the 18th century, the city of Paris, with the weight of it's buildings, continued to grow was the ground became for hollow underneath.  Then the problems began. There were too many buildings combined with too much greed and too little thinking ahead. Some of the buildings began to collapse and fall into the earth that was opening up below them.  On April 4, 1777, the Inspection Generale des Carmes was formed to manage, fill in, or close sections of the tunnels that were unmistakably dangerous.

Map of the Catacombs

     The second problem arose for the Parisians during the 18th century.  The graveyards were getting extremely full. The Cimetiere des Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocent) alone held more than thirty generations of human remains.  People would pay the parish priest to bury their dead there. The priests didn't want to refuse money.  Offering burial in their cemeteries was a source of income for churches.  As a result, they would take in more bodies than they had room for.  Large pits were dug for those who couldn't afford a proper grave, to make room for well paying customers.  When these mass graves were full, they would fill them up and open another. 

Bodies in the streets

Mass grave

     The emerging, quickly growing city had closed in around cemeteries and there was no place to go but up. Near the end of the "life" of several of the cemeteries, the ground swelled more than 10 feet above the road.  The pungent odor was overwhelming to those who lived near the graveyard or passed by.  Some cemetery walls actually broke open, spilling rotting bodies onto the street.  Soon after, epidemics spread and people started dying from the pestilence spread by the corpses.  Something had to be done, the disease  was spreading and the smell was horrid.  Finally, mass burial in the city was banned all together.  The decision was made to start emptying the cemetery and to place the bones into the network of tunnels under the city.  In 1785, when the bones were moved to the underground network, the quarries became the Catacombs.  The first quarry to receive bones was called, "Carriere de la tombe Issoire."

depiction of arranging the bones in Catacombs

      As you are probably more than away, especially if you are a fan of ghosts and the supernatural, disturbing the dead tends to be a bit universally taboo.  Most cultures believe that you should just leave the dead alone, for countless reasons.  There are a ton of ceremonies and rituals to help loved ones pass onto the afterlife, all over the world. These bodies weren't exactly "laid the rest" respectfully.  They were heaped into overflowing cemeteries, many just tossed into mass graves with no regard or respect. When their corpses fell out onto the streets, again they were disturbed. Then, they were all moved to the Catacombs. Bones were later rearranged into a macabre work of art. I'd say there are probably a lot of souls that are a bit irked to say the least.  

bones, bones, bones

graffiti probably doesn't make the ghosts any happier

     In the Catacomb museum, in the Montparnasse section of Paris, you will go in and walk 130 stairs down a spiral staircase, 20 meters below the surface.  There are rooms with photographs containing images of ancient graffiti photographs containing images of ancient graffiti from within the catacombs, as well as some of the below-ground structures.  Then, you step into the actual Catacombs.  The ceiling varies in height from as low as 6 feet to as high as 12 feet high, with dim lighting, as I'd expect.  Ambiance! There is a sign at the entryway that reads, "Arrete! C'est ici L'Empire de la Mort," meaning, "Stop! Here is the Empire of the Dead."  Large stacks of human bones and skulls greet those who enter with hollow, foreboding stares.  Within the entire Paris Catacombs, there are more than six million bodies stored- only bones now of course. 

     In different sections of the Catacombs, there are ornate patterns formed by skulls, leg and arm bones.  Skulls form patterns within stacks such as crosses, hearts, arcs, and others.  It is impressive, intricate, symmetrical and very macabre. I wonder how it felt stacking all of those bones.  Seeing as dumbing millions of dead people's remains down a 20 meter hole is pretty darn disrespectful, they say the arrangements were a way to give some dignity to the deceased.   In other sections of the Catacombs, you have to crawl across stacks of bones.  What a bizarre feeling that must be. A lot of the Catacombs is closed off the the public now but there are ways around it.  

another "arrangement" 

A security guard non-identified had said, "Some people go down and are very afraid after seeing the bones.  Some say they hear things. Voices." I don't blame them!

     These souls sacrificed their eternal resting ground so than the city of Paris could grow, flourish and prosper, which it did. Noblemen's bones are intertwined with peasants, families and skeletal remains may be crushed with their ancestors' bones, and you can walk through this.  What a fascinating history! 30 generations speak to each passerby, in one collective voice.  Some people argue that the Catacombs are not haunted because there were no actual deaths there, so there cannot be ghosts.  I don't believe this to be entirely true after doing more research. There are a lot of different stories of occurrences in the catacombs that challenge that theory. Many believe that because over 6 million Parisians remains were disturbed in their resting places and put in what is now "The Catacombs" there may be ghosts roaming the ancient subterranean stone quarries of Paris.  

a ghostly image?

     Over the centuries, the catacombs have been visited by many, including both French and German soldiers during World War II.  There are tales of death and murders that have taken place deep within the hidden catacombs of Paris.  Many visitors claim to have "felt" strange things when they have been in the catacombs.  Feelings like they were being followed and in some cases, even touched by some unseen force.  Other visitors have reported seeing shadow figures or spectors deep within the stacks and rows of skulls and bones.  Undoubtedly, the disturbance of all those souls to be brought there has left many spirits unsettled.  

     Paranormal researchers, such as the Ghost Adventures, visiting the Catacombs of Paris have captured strange EVP recordings, as well as photographs of strange, unexplained lights or orbs as well as misty images appearing on film. Ghost Adventures with Zak Bagans, the lead paranormal investigator, did a special on the Paris Catacombs called "The NetherWorld." They explored the "off limits" sections, with the help of a Cataphile.  A Cataphile is a person who goes to the Catacombs, illegally.  They do enjoy giving "off-limits" tours to those daring enough to go. They explored, trying to verify any truths behind certain stories, such as the lost cameraman in the catacombs, whose footage was found later on, perhaps of his last breaths.  Also, there was a doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grace hospital during the French revolution, who was found dead, 11 years after he disappeared. It is unknown how Philibert Aspairt met his demise in the Catacombs in November 1793, after venturing into them through a staircase in the hospital. The monks used to store liquor there and some say he might have been trying to steal some and was killed. No one really knows.  His body was discovered in 1804 in one of the quarry gallows, and was buried where it was found.  It is said he still walks the Catacombs. Maybe he is still in search of that last drink he didn't get. 

such design precision

     Zak and the team of Ghost Adventures experienced all kinds of interesting phenomena. They went into some small chambers, some where they had to crawl over bones.  They had heavy feelings of sadness, heard noises and felt strong energy.  Zak called is one of the most emotional places he had been in and had to get out, because he felt so overwhelmed. They had rigged a few cameras to keep recording in the direction they walked, to catch any paranormal occurrences if they occurred while they explored. When they went to leave, the 2 cameras were gone. Did random Cataphiles take them? Or were their curious ghosts that "spirited" the cameras away? They were able to capture some images on the camera they used while exploring though. It captured the ghost of a seemingly old saint or someone else wearing a black hooded robe. Zach even saw a hand that disappeared when he tried to touch it.  

Zack with Ghost Adventures

     Zack and his crew examined the footage left behind by the missing cameraman from the early 1990's. No one knows what really happened to this man and it's really hard to find information about him. I could not locate a name or records. The infamous YouTube video shows the man exploring the Catacombs alone, with only a camera as a companion. Then it shows what appear to be his last moments alive, like he was knocked down and dragged off perhaps. Getting lost in the dark labyrinth of the Paris Catacombs would no doubt be terrifying as well as dangerous and potentially fatal.  But this cameraman decided to take the risk and explore solo.  He descended into the subterranean world below the busy Paris streets, never to be seen again.  He walked deeper and deeper, filming every step and turn.  He seemed to panic and get lost in the maze of bones.  The camera continued to film even when he appears to have fallen or dropped it, until it ran out of film.  The footage was found by some urban explorers who went down into the Catacombs and found the camcorder laying on the ground.  The battery was discharged and the tape was full. There was no body to be found. What happened to this mystery man? Was he the victim of foul play? Or was he overcome with vertigo and injured himself ? Does his spirit still wander the tunnels, lost?

Here is the video that the lost man took, and you can decide.Click below:
The Lost Man Footage

Bones like what Zack and his team had to crawl over

In 2011, 3 french youth were rescued there after 2 days of being lost.  They left notes for their rescuers as they sought an escape route.  They got lost while exploring the Catacombs with friends. The tunnels are too deep for cell phone coverage, so they got lucky.  How many people have gotten lost and not been so lucky?  

very cool and macabre arrangement 

     Ghost photos and eerie feelings are often reported from many visitors.  Ghosts are often said to be felt more than witnessed eye to eye. Many people have been grabbed or have felt a ghost touching them, even grabbing their hands and clothes.  Some of the many visitors are often said to be overcome and often pass out from fear or the presence of actual ghosts that attach themselves to those that walk the halls. Several report seeing a group of shadows in one area of the catacombs, as the living walk along, the dead follow in complete silence.  To some, the experience is completely overwhelming, even paralyzing, and tours have been cut short by the growing sense of unease.  Photos have revealed orbs and ghostly apparitions, and EVPs have been recorded throughout the vaults. And there are many ghost photos. 

tunnel of bones

     The Catacombs were also featured on "The Scariest Places on Earth" on the Sci fy channel.  There's more of a dark history than some even realize. I had to do some digging. I do believe that the Paris Catacombs could be a very haunted place. It fits the bill. Back during the French revolution, people were actually buried directly in the Catacombs, including members of the Swiss guard killed in the storming of the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792, as well as the victims of the massacres on September 1792.  The remains of victims of the guillotine transferred there from their original burial plots as well, along with the remains of several famous writers in that time period- all mixed together. In 1871, Communards killed a group of Monarchists in one chamber. During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system. Also, during this period, German Soldiers established an underground bunker in the Catacombs below Lycee Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissment. 

graffiti artist

Unfortunately, because of health concerns over hazardous conditions of the tunnels, almost all of the tunnels are closed off to tourists.  There are also many Cataphiles, which visit, tour and hang out in the tunnels illegally. Let's not forget about the random party goers who have underground raves in the Catacombs. They've discovered many abandoned "party spots" through the years. 


It seems that the Paris Catacombs have a dark enough history to be pretty darn haunted. To those who'd argue otherwise, let them. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is mine. The Catacombs are now on my list of one of the most haunted places in the world that I'd love to visit. You should visit as well if you get the chance. Who knows what you may see, hear or feel? Be careful, you don't want to become a permanent visitor, don't get lost....

A supposed spirit picture

"Only with the constant reminder of death can we appreciate life," some believe.

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