March 5, 2013

Immortals of the Underground

Part One

By The Benign Maleficent In Artefact 5 min read
This series basically deals with some of the mouth-gaping discoveries that were found beneath the Earth’s crust:
Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary — l’Empire de la Mort (Paris,France)
This place is as shocking as it’s name! It is concealed beneath the streets of a shockingly large city Paris.This is one set of many underground limestone quarries discovered in the 20th century.These tunnels date back to the Roman period, when these quarries were a source of Limestone.

The mouth gaping fact: These tunnels are basically home to bones(if there are any left!) of 6 million people from 17th century.Thus, some of us may find it a historically rich heritage(sic).
Death on display: The macabre mosaics lining the walls of the underground network are the remains of 6million former Parisians
It’s origins are traced back to the times when the then Government of Paris was consolidating these quarries. The need arose because these quarries run directly beneath the streets and thus huge structures could not be built.In 1777 Police Lieutenant General Alexander Lenoir had the idea of using these tunnels for burying of the dead.The idea stuck a chord with his successor Thiroux de Crosne and thus these quarries became graves.Part of the tunnels were turned into a mass tomb near the end of the 18th century,
when the Les Halles district was suffering from disease, due to contamination caused by improper burials and mass graves in churchyard graveyards.It was decided to remove the bones and place them in the quarries.So mind you,It is not a cemetery but an ossuary, in other words a place where bones are stored.Along a labyrinth of obscure galleries and narrow corridors , the visitor discovers the bones laid out in a “romantico-macabre” decoration. Pillars, bells of subsidence or bath of feet of the quarry men evoke the origin of the places, the limestone quarries, while sharpening the curiosity of the visitor. This underground museum restores the history of Parisian and invites to a voyage out of time.
The network has become a draw for Parisians who want to explore the unchartered territory, who are known as CataphilesThese scary yet inviting place has been opened to public since 1874. Following an incident of vandalism, they were closed to the public in September 2009 and reopened 19 December of the same year.Here, visitors from all over the world can descend into the city’s dark bowels for a whistle-stop,goose-bumpy tour of a small section of the catacombs.
Much of the catacombs are out of bounds to the public, making it illegal to explore unsupervised. But nevertheless, it is a powerful draw for a hardcore group of explorers with a thirst for adventure(like our ‘Thums up’ guys!!).The name given to the group of explorers who go into the cave network illegally and unsupervised is CataphilesThe top secret groups go deep underground, using hidden entrances all over the city. And they sometimes stay for days at a time, equipped with head lamps and home-made maps.As if this was not enough some groups are known to throw party in this eerie place! At the same time this place has it’s own set of devotees who consider this place as a sanctuary from daily din of city life.People actually visit this place to find peace! One of the comments made by a visitor are:
 ‘I think people are fascinated with death. They don’t know what it’s about and you see all these bones stacked up, and the people that have come before us, and it’s fascinating. We’re trying to find our past and it’s crazy and gruesome and fun all at the same time.’
Empire of the dead: While much of the 200-mile network is out of bounds, a small section is open to tourists

After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channeling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”).
Beyond lies some of the most exquisite arrangements of bones. Along the way one would find other ‘monuments’ created in the years before catacomb renovations.There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other ‘un-visitable’ parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours.In a cavern just before the exit stairway one could see an example of the Quarry Inspection’s work in the rest of Paris’s underground caverns: its roof is two 11-metre high domes of naturally degraded, but reinforced, rock; the dates painted into the highest point of each bear witness to what year the work to the collapsing cavern ceiling was done, and whether it has degraded since. These “fontis” were the reason for a general panic in late-18th-century Paris, after several houses and roadways collapsed into previously unknown caverns below.
Nevertheless, there exist secret entrances, sewers, or manhole covers, through which one can find ways to illegally visit the other parts of The Catacombs. In 2004, an underground movie theater was discovered by the French police.Seems like the dead also love Hollywood!!


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