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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Walking down the stairs,
Walking in puddles.
Walking in low roof areas.
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.
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.
Entering the Empire of Death
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.
Behind the walls of skulls are piled up bones which reminds me of the bones song: “The thigh bones connected to the hip bone.”
There were a lot of poetic inscriptions.
My favorite was this:
“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, 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 keeps the hour of death in sight,
and who spends his days ready to die.”
“O death that your judgment is filled with fairness” (Help with translating this, please.)
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!
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