Beneath the glamorous fashion, culture, and art that is eminent in Paris, there lies a hidden world holding the remains of 6 million of its former residents.
The Paris Catacombs are a network of old caves, quarries, and tunnels stretching hundreds of miles, and seemingly lined with the bones of the dead. Their origins are traced back in the limestone quarries situated on the outskirts of the city.
The natural resource has been in use for centuries, dating back to the Roman era. It is believed to have provided construction material for the city’s buildings, as well as contributed to the city’s growth. After the second half of the 18 the century, the former limestone mines were transformed into burial places. The burial places are currently located under the city. Overpopulation in Parisian cemeteries such as Les Innocents led to improper burials by the 18th Century.
Occupants of such areas started complaining that the strong stench of decomposing flesh and the spread of diseases from the cemeteries was agonizing.
An edict was issued in 1763 by Louis XV banning all burials from the capital. However, the church did not wish to disturb or move the cemeteries and opposed the edict. Consequently, nothing was done. An unusually long period of spring rain caused a wall around the Les Innocents to collapse. The incident took place around 1780. Shockingly, the rotting corpses spilled into a neighboring property.
It took two years for all the bones from the Les Innocents to be transferred to the catacombs. The following decades saw the bones of the dead removed from cemeteries around Paris for reburial in the catacombs.
The practice of burying the newly dead directly in the catacombs began after the French Revolution. The final transfer of bones was undertaken during the renovation of Paris by Georges-Eugène Haussmann back in 1859, and the work was finally completed in 1860. The catacombs were open to the public seven years later. The catacombs stretch over a distance of 186 miles (300 Kilometers).