Paris catacombs and other strange places you can explore virtually

10 Strange Places You Can Explore Virtually

Mount a virtual expedition into the Paris catacombs, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Diagon Alley, Cat Island, a notorious murder house and other curious locations without leaving home.

Teens Lost in Paris Catacombs for Three Days

Search teams used rescue dogs to find teens who were lost underground in the Paris catacombs for three days.
Teens were lost in the Paris catacombs for three days

The Guardian reports two teenagers were rescued Wednesday morning after being lost in the sprawling catacombs of Paris for three days. Search teams used dogs to sniff them out in the narrow tunnels beneath the city filled with bones.

The catacombs were originally mining tunnels dating back to Roman times, where much of the stone was quarried to build the city. By 1786 Paris cemeteries had become so overcrowded from centuries of burials dating back to the middle ages that it had become unsanitary. The decision was made to begin clearing out the cemeteries around the city to prevent disease caused by increasing numbers of incompletely decomposed bodies. The remains of some six million burials were exhumed and transported down into the mines, transforming the subterranean depths beneath Paris into the world’s largest ossuary.

There are approximately 1.2 miles of catacombs open to the public for tours during regular museum hours, leaving another roughly 170 miles of dark, weaving passages that have been closed and illegal to enter since 1955. But anyone ambitious enough to track down one of the secret entrance points throughout the city can easily gain access to the off-limits passages.

Over the years the catacombs have been used as a Nazi bunker, a clandestine movie theater, a Halloween night Airbnb, and more, but most who enter seem to find their way back out.

Skulls line the walls of the Paris catacombs

In October 2016 surfer Alison Teal decided to surf the catacombs in a pink bikini as a stunt with her video crew. They climbed down a drain at night, through piles of bones, to a secret spot where Teal paddled through a tunnel filled with freezing water. “Skulls lined the walls and it smelled horrid,” she said. “As soon as someone turned a corner, you had no idea where they went.”

The stunt took a dangerous turn when they realized the water was rising, blocking the tunnel’s entrance. The crew had to swim back the way they came to escape, with only a small gap at the top of the tunnel for air. Afterwards, Teal said it was dangerous and she wouldn’t encourage others to try it. “The place is a maze,” she said. “Just one wrong turn and you’d be lost for good.”

That is likely what happened to Philibert Aspairt, who disappeared in 1793. Aspairt was a doorkeeper at the Val-de-Grâce hospital during the French Revolution. For reasons unknown, he decided to descend a staircase in the hospital’s courtyard that lead down into the catacombs. His body was discovered 11 years later.

While there may be many more bodies waiting to be found in the catacombs, the two teens rescued Wednesday were lucky to not meet a similar fate. They were immediately taken to the hospital and treated for hypothermia, however, due to three days in tunnels with an average temperature of 59 degrees.

Spend Halloween Night in the Catacombs of Paris

Airbnb is giving away a unique Halloween experience: A one night stay for two guests surrounded by the dead in the Paris catacombs.
AirBNB is giving away a one night stay in the Paris catacombs for Halloween

Are you brave enough to stay the night among the dead? Airbnb is giving you the opportunity, with a special one-night stay for two on Halloween in the macabre caverns of the Paris catacombs…surrounded by the skeletal remains of 6 million people.

The description states:

Bienvenue to the bowels of Paris!
Looking for a change from the usual Halloween festivities? Escape the pint-sized pirates and mini goblins in the world’s largest grave— Paris’ famous catacombs, the final resting place of 6 million souls.

On Halloween night, journey to the center of the earth and learn about the hair-raising history of this mysterious subterranean labyrinth. Satisfy your thirst for adventure in the sprawling network of skulls and bones. Next, savor a dazzling culinary experience while enjoying a private concert in the most incredible acoustics under the earth.

Before bedtime, a storyteller will have you spellbound with fascinating tales from the catacombs, guaranteed to produce nightmares. Finally, enjoy dawn with the dead, as you become the only living person ever to wake up in the Paris catacombs.

For an unforgettable Halloween, tell the host before midnight October 20th why you think you’re brave enough to sleep in the catacombs.

The prize is open to couples and friends, 2 people maximum.

Halloween dinner in the Paris catacombs

Be sure to follow the house rules:

  • No tricks. But plenty of treats.
  • Please respect the Catacombs as you would your own grave
  • Be mindful of your Parisian neighbours, both the living and the dead
  • No bobbing for apples in the Catacomb pools
  • Don’t forget your toothbrush and pajamas. Bonus points if they glow in the dark

View the contest listing here: Halloween Night in Paris Catacombs

Halloween Night in the World’s Largest Grave

Paris catacombs

Bones in the Paris catacombs

6 million dead in the catacombs beneath Paris

Can you make it through the night in the catacombs?

Memento mori

Paris catacombs skulls

Your bedroom in the Paris catacombs

The dead will watch you sleep in the Paris catacombs

Bed and breakfast in the catacombs

Empire of the Dead

Walls of bones in the catacombs

By 1786, the cemeteries in Paris were overflowing with centuries of human remains. The old mines below the city were being renovated due to recent collapses, and the solution to both problems soon became evident. The city’s vast underground was to become the world’s largest ossuary.

For two years, wagon processions carried remains exhumed from mass graves dating back to the Middle Ages from Cimetière des Saints-Innocents and other Parisian graveyards down into the dark, silent depths of the subterranean quarries.

In 1810, the head of the head of the Paris mine inspection service began overseeing renovations, transforming the catacombs from a pile of bones into the organized and artistic formations they are today.

Death on Display at the Paris Morgue

Death became a popular pastime at the Paris Morgue in the late 19th century, where bodies were displayed publicly for identification.
Bodies on display at the Paris morgue c. 1880s

The Paris Morgue, built in 1864, was home to a gruesome spectacle as each morning they displayed bodies of the unknown to the public for identification.

Crowds gathered at the morgue daily to feed their curiosities, gawking at the often times ghastly remains of suicides and murder victims while others searched the slabs for missing loved ones.

An article publish in 1898 in The National Magazine describes the experience:

Each day, from early morning gleam to the evening hour of six, the curious of this earth may be seen going into and coming away from the ugly pile. Persons out of work are impelled by curiosity to go and see the “macchabées,” as the exposed corpses are termed in local slang; but others go to seek on the cold, bare slabs for the body of some dear one who departed this life by suicide or was the victim of an atrocious crime. Over the main door, on the front, one reads the words: “Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!” Yes, it is indeed that, in this anti-chamber of the eternal naught, which most profoundly verifies the modern formula of our poor humanity. Free, equals, brothers are our corpses when the light of existence has gone out from them.

Between the street door and the thick glass partly dirtied by an undefinable sort of lye, in the large hall, are always some people morgueing at the horrible remains of those who are free from all pain and suffering, and among this throng are some who recognize a friend or relative. But we need not remain with these people, for, armed with a special permit, obtained at the prefecture of police, we penetrate at once into the edifice. Our first feeling is that of cold, the chill of death made more icy by an enormous refrigerator. It is a box three stories In height, and having five compartments on each story.

In this large box icy cold air is produced by means of ammonia; and the pipes are so distributed that while the five lower cases are chilled to a temperature of 15 degrees below zero (centigrade) those of the other stories attain 3 and 7 degrees. As soon as a dead body reaches the morgue it is put naked on a movable iron plank, this is placed on a small chariot, and the corpse never leaves this bed until it starts for the cemetery. Once on this plank the body is washed, examined carefully, and all the details as to its appearance are minutely made note of. Then the small chariot is rolled up to and shut inside one of these fifteen compartments, and not more than five or six minutes have elapsed since the body was stripped until thus refrigerated.

The official in charge opened one of these cases and showed us a corpse that was undergoing the freezing operation be re being placed under the eyes of the public. It was that of a woman, rather small in stature and about 23 years of age. There was not the slightest sign of contraction on the pale countenance, and the corpse had none of that bloated and flabby appearance which the dropping of water from taps above used to give them, nor was the flesh soft and shiny. It was like a wax statue, and seemed as if suddenly and unexpectedly struck by some all powerful hand into glacial rigidity. These remains of a once beautiful young woman had been in the refrigerator for seven hours.

It takes from four to nine hours to thoroughly freeze a corpse; intestines inside the body of a man will be frozen in ten. The official struck the breast of this body with a cane, and it gave forth a sound like unto that produced by hitting a stone block with a stout stick. It Is, thanks to this system of conservatism, that the dead can be kept for weeks without their showing the least signs of decomposition.

We go next into the “Salle des sacs,” or rooms where the clothes of the dead are put in sealed bags, not, however, until ample time has been given to the relatives of the deceased, should any appear, to claim the property if they so desire. If the family does not take possession of the clothes it is supposed they are not wanted, and at the end of two weeks they are thrown into a sac which is sealed up and then put in this room.

When the room becomes crowded these bags are carted to a kiln outside of Paris, where they are burned to ashes. From the “Salle des sacs” we go Into the “chapellerie” or hat room, where upon a score of shelves are displayed a series of headdresses as varied as they are improbable, and which were once worn by all classes of males and females; thence we reach the hall for dissections and autopsies, a kind of amphitheatre with steps or benches rising above each other, with a marble table in the middle, and which is lighted by two wide windows opening on the river Seine behind the bridge of the St. Louis island. The usual instruments, the bottled organs taken from human bodies, the chemicals, etc., found in all arsenals of the dead are plentiful. In this hall a celebrated French surgeon gives weekly lectures during the months of autumn, winter and early spring which are free to everybody. But so small is the room and so numerous are the students who want to attend these lectures that It Is the rule to issue tickets on which the date when the holder may be present is designated, and thus all are in turn enabled to attend.

An illustration from the July 18th, 1874 edition of Harper’s Weekly called “The Paris Morgue – The last scene of a tragedy.

The Paris Morgue was closed to the public in 1907 out of concern for morality.

The Last Taxidermist in Paris

Deyrolle is a 180-year-old taxidermy shop and natural history emporium in Paris. Founded in 1831 by well-known entomologist Jean-Baptiste Deyrolle, the shop was home to a historic collection of taxidermy mounts, beetles, butterflies and more until a short circuit caused the building to burn in February 2007.

The building still stood when the smoke cleared, but the collection was destroyed. Thanks to donations, restoration is under way to restore Deyrolle to it’s former glory.

The former glory of Deyrolle is preserved in the pages of the January 1985 issue of World of Interiors magazine in an article titled “The Last Taxidermist in Paris.”

Cover of the January 1985 issue of World of Interiors magazine

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