For hundreds of years, many of the buildings of Paris were build using limestone quarried from under the city. A maze of tunnels was constructed to cut out the limestone and deliver it to the surface. Around 1786 disease was running rampant throughout Paris as a result of contamination caused by improper burials and mass graves in churchyard cemeteries. To halt the contamination, the bones from over 1 million people were removed and placed in the abandoned quarries.
The catacombs in general are not open to the public, but a small section is available to tour. The tunnel system is complex and spans more than 186 miles in length. Some tunnels have plaques indicating the name of the street above.
Inside, the tunnels walls were built using femurs bones interspersed with skulls for artistic design. Behind the femur bone walls, the smaller human bones were tossed into huge piles against the tunnel walls. These piles were sometimes ten to twenty feet wide.
I was the only person in the catacombs at the time of my visit. Upon entering the tunnels, I descended 130 feet down a spiral staircase into solid rock under the city. The tunnels are only 7 feet high and about 5 feet wide. If you have claustrophobia or the fear of being buried alive – don’t take this tour! At one point I stopped to experience the silence. I was in a tunnel of solid rock under a bustling city, and all I could hear was the blood rushing through my ears. It was very peaceful sharing that moment of silence with 1 million other people. It was the feeling of being alone in a crowd.