Inside Paris catacombs: France's Empire of the Dead [Pictures]


Below the City of Light's 12million residents lie the remains of 6million others - known as France's Empire of the Dead, a world which is brought to life in a new documentary on CNN.

The Paris catacombs are a 200-mile network of old caves, tunnels and quarries - and much of it is filled with the skulls and bones of the dead. 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.

One visitor told CNN: '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.'

A by-product of the early development of Paris, the catacombs were subterranean quarries which were established as limestone was extracted deep underground to build the city above. However it wasn't until the 18th century that the catacombs became known as the Empire of the Dead when they became the solution to overcrowding in the city's cemeteries.

The number of dead bodies buried in Paris's cemeteries and beneath its churches was so great that they began breaking through the walls of people's cellars and causing serious health concerns. So the human remains were transferred to the underground quarries in the early 1780s. There are now more than 6million people underground.

The space was the perfect solution to ease overcrowding in cemeteries but it presented disadvantages elsewhere. It is the reason there are few tall buildings in Paris; large foundations cannot be built because the catacombs are directly under the city's streets.


  1. Paris has only 2 million residents (not 12 !!), so the "population of the Catacombs" is 3 times more important than the City of living people !


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