It is sometimes challenging to separate facts from long-held rumors about the Paris Catacombs. As an underground cemetery holding the bones of millions of people below Paris, the catacombs are the stuff of nightmares. In many ways, however, the mass grave site is the least disturbing aspect of the underground labyrinth. There is much gossip about Nazis, vengeful spirits, and secret societies supposedly in the catacombs.
With nearly 200 miles of gloomy tunnels, it’s easy to imagine getting lost in the Paris Catacombs and never making your way out. Today, any visitor can embark on a guided tour, and learn all kinds of information about the historic burials. However, this tour is only about 45 minutes long - it doesn't even take you deep into the illegal sections, where the secrets dwell.
You’ve already read about tales of haunted catacombs, and perhaps strolled through the mysteries surrounding murder dumps. The Paris Catacombs are a mix of both: an allegedly haunted area where the dead rest in astonishing numbers and few know how deep the darkness goes.
In the early 2000s, a video reportedly recovered from a dusty camera found in the catacombs aired on several TV channels. The director, who released the video as a part of a documentary on haunted locations, said he received the camera from so-called "cataphiles," unauthorized catacombs explorers. The origins of the video are murky, leading many to claim the video is a hoax.
Regardless of whether it's a fact or fiction, the video is chilling as it shows a man growing progressively unbalanced, panicked, and lost. No one knows what happened to the man in the video, which leads speculators to assume he died in the catacombs. Viewers pore over the video for clues like markings on the walls and mysterious, muffled sounds.
One of the most densely populated European cities, Paris, France, needed creative solutions to deal with the bodies accumulating when people passed. By the 18th century, Parisian cemeteries were so packed that frequent discoveries of corpses occurred during the digging of new graves.
Les Halles, once Paris's primary food market, bumped up against Les Innocents, the city's oldest cemetery, and the overcrowded burial ground quickly became a problem. Even the perfumeries in Les Halles couldn't mask the stench of the decaying bodies.
Louis XV and XVI tried to enforce proclamations ordering all burials to take place outside of the capital, but had little success. Few changes occurred until 1780, when heavy rain caused a wall in Les Innocents to collapse, filling the surrounding properties with bodies.
The city decided to move the bodies into the limestone quarries tucked away five stories beneath Paris. It took 12 years to transport all the bones from the city into the catacombs, and by the end, roughly six to seven million souls found their final resting place in the catacombs.
People are still discovering secrets inside the catacombs. In 2004, the Parisian police explored a formerly remote section of the catacombs as a part of their training routine. In their search, they encountered a sign warning people to turn back due to construction, even though there were no official development plans in the area. After they passed it, they heard the sound of dogs growling and barking in the darkness. They found out the commotion originated from a recording played over a sound system, likely installed to scare off curious intruders.
As the police pressed on, they uncovered an elaborate setup inside a more than 1,600-square-foot cavern, complete with a sizable movie screen, as well as seats chiseled into the catacomb stone. The makeshift cinema neighbored a bar and eatery wired with electricity and phone lines.
The officers eventually exited the site. When they returned a few days later to analyze the scene further, they found the phone and power lines shut off, as well as a note awaiting them, which read, "Do not try to find us."
Authorities attribute only one confirmed death to the Paris Catacombs. In 1793, Philibert Aspairt went into the catacombs. Officially, no one knows why Aspairt ventured beneath the city, but according to legend, he was looking for a hidden cache of alcohol. Armed with only a candle, he went in.
Eleven years later, they found his body, which was heartbreakingly close to an exit.