The catacombs of Paris are a seemingly endless maze of tunnels lined with the skulls and bones of countless people put there over hundreds of years. Parts of the catacombs are open to the public but some people venture into forbidden areas.
Miles of Bones
Situated about 60 to 70 feet underground, the catacombs are thought to contain the remains of more than six million people. There is a main entrance open to tourists but there are dozens of secret entrances located around the city. Those brave enough to enter on their own have gone to do things like drink and throw parties, or simply escape the noise of the city above. If they’re caught, they can expect fines of up to $70.
Empire of the Dead
The catacombs of Paris began as limestone mines. The limestone extracted there was used to build the city buildings above ground. As the mines were depleted, they were abandoned and forgotten. Occasionally the ground above the empty mines would collapse. Starting in the late 1780s, the empty mines were filled with the remains from above ground cemeteries which had become overcrowded and a serious health concern.
A Modern Labyrinth
The catacombs stretch for miles and much of them is still uncharted. There are plaques with the street names of the roads overhead to help travelers find their way, but it is still easy to get lost. The catacombs have served as a hiding place for many in Paris’ history from revolutionaries to Resistance fighters during WWII.
Playground for the Brave
The catacombs have a history of attracting odd types. Some have come to soak up the history while others have tried to take advantage of the macabre environment. In 2004, Paris authorities found a fully equipped movie theater with projector and seats, a website posted the schedule of movies. Those responsible were never found. In 2015, Airbnb held a Halloween competition where winners were allowed to stay the night in the catacombs. The company paid almost $400,000 to rent the space for the night.
The teens, ages 16 and 17, were found by search teams with rescue dogs after spending three days in the pitch-black tunnels. It’s not clear how they got lost or who reported them missing, but people have been known to leave the tourist area and wander among the remains of the dead. Temperatures in the tunnels are around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After spending three days underground, the pair are being treated for hypothermia.