19.1.15

France: Catacombs of Paris - Life Under The City Of Lights

Paris, December 2014


Do you know there is another Paris under Paris?




While exploring the vibrant city of Paris, you might not realise that underneath your foot lies millions of bodies who once lived. It's another side of Paris....the darker one that not all tourists are willing to visit.

I didn't know this place existed on my first visit to Paris back in 2001. I found out about it few years later after I watched 'Catacombs' the movie and started to gather some informations about it. But it wasn't until my third trip to this city that I finally managed to visit it. In the 17th century, this city was facing a major problem about where to bury the death people. Some of the cemeteries which held more than 30 generations of human remain were overstuffed to the point cemetery walls broke open and spilling rotting bodies onto the streets. And of course the awful smell was tormenting people who lived in that area. It also caused some disease that the government had to find a way to relocate all the corpse. The solution was the centuries old tunnels that had existed beneath the street of Paris since the 13th centuries. The tunnels is approximately 300 km long and was dug as quarries, sewers also limestone mine.


a small entrance door

I got some free metro tickets from the hotel I was staying at, so I hop on the train to Denfert-Rochereau station. It was on Tuesday around 1pm and the queue outside the Catacombs entrance door was kinda crazy. I went there with my family (Dad, Mom and sister) and spent more than 2 hours queueing under the rain and cold (7 °C) before we finally made it to the ticket counter.  It's a good thing that they only allow some number of people into the tunnel at a time. So it won't be too crowded inside.


130 steps down

The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition, claustrophobic and young children.

I've always knew I'm a bit claustrophobic but I've been to some caves before and I handled it well. So I confidently thought I would be okay to explore this catacombs and ignored the warnings. To reach the 20 meters deep tunnels or equivalent to a five storey building, I had to go down 130 steps in a tight spiral staircase. By the time I reached the bottom, my knees were already weak and I was feeling dizzy.


dimly lit tunnel

another tunnel

The maze-like tunnels is dimly lit, the air is humid and dusty. As I walked further inside the tunnel, I felt that my breath became heavy for lacking of oxygen. I walked alone, a couple metres ahead my family, the only sound I heard was only my foot against the damp gravel path and waters dripping from the ceiling. Every time I reach another turn, I was hoping to finally reach the main tunnel where all the bones are stacked .....sadly, only to find another tunnel to pass. It started to feel like walking inside a never ending tunnel or a maze with no exit. Suddenly I heard some muffled voices....something like a lot of people whispering on my ear in the same time.....


and more tunnel....I was alone here

"Huh? What?" I turned my head to the back, thinking that my family were saying something. But I saw them walking quite far behind me and I was alone in the middle of the empty tunnel.

Feeling confused, I stopped walking. It was when I started to feel an icy cold tingling sensation spreading from my fingertips to my arm and very fast to all over my body. A very strange feeling. It felt like I lost control over my body and my gut telling me to run. My body started to shake as I was having a breath difficulties.

"Help!" I tried to scream but I couldn't hear my own voice. My head was spinning and my vision got blurry.

"Oh no! Are you okay?" I heard Mom's voice as she grabbed my arm. I was about to fall because my legs were weak, so I leaned against the cold wall.

"Please...take me out. I can't breath." I started hyperventilating. It seems like the ceiling was getting lower and the walls were about to crush me in the middle. Yes, I was having the worst case of panic attack in my life. There was no way to run, I was in the middle of the route. It's an one entrance and one exit tunnel. I couldn't go back.

"Breath slowly. Relax!" Mom and Dad were holding my arm as I was about to faint.

I was trying to breathe slowly while thinking about some happy stuff to calm myself down. Thinking about my cute and funny dogs at home.  Thinking about places that makes me happy. Luckily, after a while it started to work!  Gradually my head stopped spinning, I got my vision back and I was strong enough to stand on my foot. And a couple minutes later, I had not completely felling fine but was able to walk again. Phew! That was one hell scariest things I've ever experienced!


some sculpture

vandalism! 

some parts are completely dark

and more tunnels...

Stop! This is the empire of death!

After what it felt like forever, I finally reached the entrance with "ArrĂȘte! C'est ici L'empire de la Mort!" written above it. "Stop! This is the empire of death!" This is where the visitors can look at the bones and skulls in a close distance. Some people even touched and made fun of the bones while taking selfie. Such a disrespect thing to do! Everyone of them was once a living person and had a name. I found it quite disturbing to play around with the remains of dead people. 



neatly stacked bones


I wonder what happened to your head?

The 300 km long tunnel is the final resting place for more than 6 million Parisians but only 2 km are open for public. Even though it's illegal to access most areas, secret entrances exist throughout Paris and it's possible to enter the catacombs via sewers, metro and certain manholes. Some urban explorer or called as Cataphile often illegally enter the catacombs just for fun while they actually could get lost easily, died and will never be discovered. It must be a horrible way to die. Dying slowly while millions of skulls staring at you in an empty yet powerful stares.




bones are everywhere



catacombs of Paris

more and more narrow tunnels before the exit

83 steep and tight spiral steps

Finding the exit door is another journey through the 'never ending tunnels'. I had to stop a couple time to sit and catch my breath because I was starting to have a breath difficulties again. At the end of the tunnel, there was still 83 steep and tight spiral steps to climb. And finally, voila! Suddenly I found myself on a normal and busy street of Paris again. As if the experience I've just had was just a surreal dream. At the exit door, a guard will examine every visitor's bag because apparently some people had tried to steal the bones.


souvenir shop

"So how was your trip in the catacombs?" The shop's owner asked me as I purchased some souvenirs across the exit door.

"I love the catacombs but I almost passed out for having a panic attack. I didn't know that my claustrophobia is that bad. It never happened before."

"Oh, dear! Glad you made it out of the catacombs just alright. We have several cases every month where firefighters help people getting out from the tunnel." He smiled at me sympathetically.


Yeah, I was so relieved to get out safe and sound. I was just feeling really disappointed with myself. I lugged my heavy DSLR camera and tripods as I wanted to take some good quality photos of the catacombs. But after the incident, I didn't have enough energy and mood to work with my camera. I was just relying on my pocket camera. So I really am not happy with blurred and noisy images in this post.

Though one thing that I learned after visiting the catacombs is trying to stay humble. There's no need to brag and overly proud about how great or how rich or how powerful we are. Because after the death, it doesn't matter anymore. In the end, we will all become only a pile of bones just like everybody else.


* The Catacombs of Paris is open daily from 10am to 8pm, except Mondays and public holidays.
Admission fee 10€ per person.


42 comments:

  1. Keren tulisannya Oma Debbzie :) Jadi ingat film tentang ini.. Lupa judulnya tapi... Hope to visit Paris soon...

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    1. wakakaka! dipanggil Oma beneran :)) Kalo ke Paris sempetin mampir sini ya, worth to visit banget :)

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  2. Deb doyan amat ke tempat yang banyak tengkoraknya sikkk ? :))

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    1. because tengkorak is sexy, Kak :))
      Entahlah knapa aku suka liat tengkorak yaaa, hihihi

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  3. astaga aku barusan sesek napaas loh baca cerita kamu sama liatin foto tunnel ini, aku ikutan semaput kayaknya kalo masuk ke dalam

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    1. sumpek banget rasanya pas lewatin tunnel yang rasanya ga berujung, malah makin sempit aja >.<

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  4. BUSET perjalannya serem amat mbak

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    1. buatku yang bikin serem tuh tunnel yang ga ada abisnya kaya labirin. Bikin sesek napas :'(

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  5. Hii... tengkorak-tengkoraknya itu, :(

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    1. tengkorak-tengkoraknya friendly kok :p

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    2. Berasa di toraja saja y mbak kayaknya hehehe :D

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    3. blum pernah ke Toraja nih, huhuhu :'(

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  6. Wow, interesting, never heard of this. Cool, Finally I have a solid reason to visit Paris, since I thought Paris is a very mainstream place, touristy and for hopeless romantic Asian tourist. this one is impressive..

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    1. Yes, Paris is not my kind of city either. But I've always wanted to visit this catacombs which is really an amazing place for me :)

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  7. Gw jadi inget Londa di Toraja ya. Mirip banget nih, tapi emang yg di Paris ini ditata lebih rapi. Tapi gw setuju ama lo kak, poto2 ama tengkorak itu dan tulang itu sangat tidak sopan. Gw emang motret tengkorak ama tulang2 sih, tapi gak nyentuh sama sekali ;)

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    1. Duh, impian banget bisa jalan2 ke Toraja :)
      Miris gitu sih liat pengunjung main2 ama tulang, no respect sama sekali. Padahal kalo ketauan penjaga ya pasti kena tegur

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  8. scarry the hell otta me.....

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    1. the skulls or the tunnel? :p

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    2. both i thing,
      i guess why would you flown thousands miles for this creepy place.........
      i though maybe you just simply bored and running out of beautifull places and scenery to visit. lol
      #MadeMyOwnSenses

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    3. lol! I always think that cemeteries with lots of skull are interesting place to visit. Perhaps I'm just weird, ya. Hihihi :p

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  9. OMG, mbaaaaaa.... aku jd penasaran, bagi yg bisa ngeliat makhluk halus, ada brp banyak ya makhluk astral di dlm sana... Aku suka pgn tau ama yg mistis2 bgitu.... Ini hrs msk k listku kalo suatu saat mngunjungi Paris :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. don't want to think about it, ah. hihihihi. Tapi beneran recommended lah ke sini :)

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  10. kak debz.. lama ga berkunjung kesini. hehe.. woahh. pengen bngt kunjungan ke catacombs ini.. dulu aku juga pernah ke desa trunyan yg di bali, yg semodel catacomb, tapi versi kecil.nya.. itu aja bawaan.nya udah deg2an gimana gt. haha.. untung yahh, dikau ga passed out disana.. bisa repot kalo nggak..

    ReplyDelete
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    1. catacombs bagus banget menurutku. Masih pengen balik sana tapi kayaknya mesti terapi sembuhin claustrophobia dulu kali ya, hihihi

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  11. Someday, when in paris, i'll definitely visit this catacombs kak debz! Even though it seem really scary :| err.. there is someone guiding trough the tunnel right?

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    1. Guided tour is optional. I chose to walk through the tunnel without a guide though, so I can have more time to explore :D

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  12. Aku paling benci ama vandalisme, udah cakep2 trus knp sech mesti di coret2 ?????? #jawabKak ihik ihik

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    1. ga ngerti deh, kenapa adaaaa aja tangan usil yang hobby merusak :'(

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  13. 20 m dibawah tanah sepanjang 2 km.. sesek napas bayanginnya
    Tapi emang kerenn banget sihh dilihat dr foto2nyaa ☺☺

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    1. iyah, worth it lah pake mau pingsan segala, hihihi

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  14. Toraja Udaaah..

    Killing Fields Udaaah

    Ya Allah, Aku pengen liat tengkorak disini ya Alllah...

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    Replies
    1. Wah! Ogi penggemar kuburan dan tengkorak juga ya :D

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  15. waaah, gak tau kalau ada ini di Paris. kalau tau pas Oktober lalu ke sana bisa mampir, huhu.
    but then, more reason to re-visit Paris.

    thank you for the information. ;D

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    1. musti kudu banget melipir ke sini, Yuki. Buat aku tempat ini super keren! Sayang kena panic attack, kalo ga udah pasti berlama2 motret tengkorak2nya. Agak off the beaten path emang, tapi worth it....biarpun mesti antrinya udah kaya antri sembako gratis >.<

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  16. super duper keren ini.... walau agak seram

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    1. tunnelnya yg serem soalnya bikin sesek napas >.<

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  17. Its completely dark and scary.. I’m affraid to be there

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  18. Wow, didn't know there is a place like this is Paris. Interesting but a bit scary though :p

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    1. the tunnel scares me more than the skulls, hahaha

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  19. Anonymous9/1/16 15:59

    First of all, sorry to hear about your panic attack. Reading your story was like reminiscing about myself. Many years ago, I also experienced panic attacks, so I know exactly how dreadful it is. I view panic attacks as a vicious shadow which follows us everywhere and attacks without mercy at anytime/anywhere. By nature, I’m quite a sensitive person so I gradually developed depression and insomnia during that time. Just like facing some incurable unseen sickness, I felt helpless and hopeless. For many years, I was scared to travel far. A bottle of water and anti-depressant were never absent from my bag. It was the darkest time in my life…

    I tried many alternative healing, like meditation, self-hypnosis, etc. then I came to know about Reiki. Based on Google, Reiki: a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient by means of touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the patient's body and restore physical and emotional well-being

    With pessimistic feelings, I tried many Reiki healing therapy practices with a Reiki teacher. I noticed that my sleeping pattern was improving and I felt less depressed. After seeing the positive effects of Reiki, I enrolled in Reiki classes and did Reiki self-healing. I did it every day religiously… Along the way, I still experienced panic attack but for shorter and shorter durations. Finally after 1 year… my panic attacks were completely resolved. I no longer need to bring any anti-depressant medicine. I feel happy to be a free man. I never imagined before that this panic attack can be cured. After suffering it for so many years, I thought that I will live with it forever. I feel happy and grateful that I can live like a normal person again and that’s why I share this with you 

    I don’t try to promote Reiki with you. Just sharing what I have gone through. Please be reminded not to expect instant cure from Reiki. This is the reason why people leave Reiki, because after 2-3 months, they don’t see tremendous results and they feel disappointed and don’t want to proceed with it anymore. Just like we grow plants (using nature power), can we expect the fruits after planting for just a short time?
    Hope this helps.

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    1. Hey, thanks so much for sharing your experience here. I am too a highly sensitive person and have experienced what you've gone through. I also suffer depression and insomnia for countless time. Thus last year I started to learn yoga and got some hypnotherapy. Now I feel better though still feel anxious sometimes. Perhaps I should try reiki and see if it helps. Thanks again :)

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