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Paris: Creepy Stuff

I’ve written about the Paris Catacombs in prior blog posts. That is probably the creepiest spot in Paris. But there are many other sites that we could slap the label of “creepy” onto. Remember the bar and jazz club that had the only 1792 model of a guillotine once on public display?

Well, one of the areas that we went to see had nothing to do with the French Revolution. In fact, this story started before the Revolution and ended before World War One. It’s the story of two prisons constructed on a street that connected the Place de la Bastille and Pere Lachaise Cemetery: rue de la Roquette.

There were once two prisons located where rue Croix-Faubin dead-ends into rue de la Roquette (11th district): la Grande Roquette and la Petit Roquette. The area was once a marsh filled with small purple-striped flowers called “wild roquette.” In 1639, the nuns of Notre-Dame-de-la-Charité built a small hospital here. During the French Revolution, the nuns were forced to abandon their site and it was turned into a spinning mill (the building can still be seen at 125 rue de la Roquette).

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Paris Catacombs

One of my blog posts was about visiting dead people in cemeteries and church crypts. I neglected to tell you about the real fun trip we had visiting the dead in a place you’d never imagine. We went to visit the six million dead people whose bones are stacked up in 186 miles of limestone caverns (or quarries as they call them here) located 29 meters below the streets of Paris. It is the ossuary called the Catacombs of Paris.

You talk about creepy. Here are all these bones and skulls stacked neatly in rows. Sometimes they are arranged to make a statement to the visitor. Sometimes there are piles like the wheelbarrow just dumped them from their original cemeteries.

P_002 by Stew Ross Travel
Dan at Paris Catacombs

By the end of the 12th century, extraction of limestone building materials began beneath the streets of Paris. The citizens of Paris were reminded of these caverns in the mid-1700’s when sinkholes would occur. A large (quarter of a mile long) sinkhole happened a week before Christmas 1774. The king appointed Charles-Axel Guillaumot (1730-1807) as Inspector of the Quarries, a title he would hold until his death.

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