My visit to the Empire of Death

Warning.

This post contains some disturbing images. If you are not comfortable with looking at bones (and one rather creepy photo of a photo of skeletal remains), please stop here.

Thank you

Today is October the 31st Halloween so I thought it would be appropriate to have a spooky post to mark the occasion.

In case you’ve missed it, we in the Chinese world have a Ghost Month which does not involve dressing up in costume.

The Empire of Death in my blog post title refers to the inscription before the real entrance to the Catacombs of Paris.

Stop! This is the Empire of Death
Stop! This is the Empire of Death
When I was planning my May 2011 trip to Paris, the Catacombs was on the top of my list, right below the Lourve and the Eiffel Tower.

I first knew about the underground ossuary [Definition: A container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed.] from TV.

The Catacombs was shown on the rather unscary Scariest Places on Earth, hosted by Linda Blair who played the kid in The Exorcist. I was fascinated by the number of beautifully arranged human skulls.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve shared this, but I am a lover of anything spooky. New Orleans, I will visit you one day for your creepy plantations.

I started queuing up before 10 a.m. so I could finish the walk through the Catacombs early and visit the rest of Paris. There was a short queue when I reached.

Entrance to the Catacombs
Entrance to the Catacombs

It took a while before I was admitted into the tiny room selling tickets. With more body language than my broken French, I asked for a ticket and an audio guide.

I recommend getting the audio guide, or else you will be left with walking past graffiti and skulls without knowing what on earth is happening. (Not much is happening, by the way.)

The audio guides also make the visit seem more like a video game. Looking for the next audio point is like trying to find the treasure chest in old Chinese RPG games.

Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris
Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris

There are a few exhibition areas in the tunnel, telling the history of the Catacombs. One of it featured this rather scary photo of skeletal remains.

OK, this is rather creepy
OK, this is rather creepy

Be prepared to walk, a lot

Before going to the Catacombs, you should know that there is a lot of walking involved.

Walking up the stairs,

Catacombs of Paris
Light at the end of the tunnel

Walking down the stairs,

Well well well...
Well well well…

Walking in puddles.

Catacombs when it's wet
Catacombs when it’s wet

Walking in low roof areas.

Watch your head
Watch your head

Walking in the semi dark and so on.

There are no toilets in the passage so do your business before heading in.

As the tunnels are built underground, there are signs showing which part of the streets you are at.

Underneath Rue Hallé
Underneath Rue Hallé

The catacombs was not built in one day and neither is Rome, so I heard. But the tunnels were not built to keep human bones and was partly an old mine.

On parts of the walls, you can find carvings of years when that particular part was built.

Established since 1781
Established since 1781

Entering the Empire of Death

Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
The real part of the ossuary comes after the long walk. You’re not supposed to take flash pictures inside but so many tourists were happily flash snapping away. Grits teeth.
Not to do list
Not to do list
Behind the walls of skulls are piled up bones which reminds me of the bones song: “The thigh bones connected to the hip bone.”
Interesting patterns, who thinks them up?
Interesting pattern, who thinks them up?
Catacombs of Paris
Skulls and thigh bones
Curved wall with skulls
Curved wall with skulls
Great interior design
Great interior design

Poetic Death

There were a lot of poetic inscriptions.

My favorite was this:

Where is Death?
Where is Death?
“Where is Death? Always in the future or the past.
And when she is present, she is no longer here.”
(The “she” being Death.)

My second favorite:

At the banquet of life
At the banquet of life
“At the banquet of life, unlucky guest,
I appeared one day, and I die:
I die, and on my grave, where I come slowly,
No one will shed tears!”

 Blessed is he who
Blessed is he who
“Blessed is he who keeps the hour of death in sight,
and who spends his days ready to die.”

O death
O death
“O death that your judgment is filled with fairness” (Help with translating this, please.)

Not quite poetic
Not quite poetic

Great walk

YQ at Catacombs of Paris
Happy camper!
I like the Catacombs a lot. The tunnels did not feel creepy since the bones are arranged beautifully.

It makes Death seem less scary.

But I am sort of disappointed that I didn’t feel any paranormal vibes. Maybe next time!

Visiting information
Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)
Web site: http://www.catacombes-de-paris.fr/english.htm
Nearest subway and RER: Denfert-Rochereau
Open from 10a.m. to 5p.m. (Closed on Mondays)

Interesting sites nearby: Montparnasse Cemetery

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More about Liau Yun Qing

Yun Qing is a writer, improviser and curious person. She loves finding little adventures in life. In 2013, she went on a 130-day round-the-world trip. She wrote a book to help those who also want to go on a career break.

8 Comments

      1. Free seat to the Empire of Death? I don’t think I’m the right person to come to.

    1. I’ve lived in Paris, but I’ve never been there, it looks like an interesting place ! For the translation you had trouble with, “que” in French is not only “that”, it is also used to translate “how” in exclamations. One possible translation would be “O Death ! how fair your judgment is.”

      I like randomly reading your blog :) Keep traveling !

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