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Spelunking In The City Of Lights: A Photographic Journey Through The Catacombs

In late October, the blogger behind MessyNessyChic descended below the streets of Paris, into the winding labyrinth known as the Catacombs of Paris. Luckily for us, she took photos.

The Catacombs of Paris are actually two things: a system of old mining tunnels and an ossuary. Constructed from the remains of old mining tunnels, the ossuary opened in the 18th century to house the overflow of dead; the burial ground of Les Innocents cemetery was full to the brim. Bones were also packed into the cemetery walls. Eventually, the cemetery, along with others in the city, were demolished, and the bones moved into what are now the Catacombs. It”s estimated that the remains of some six million people are in the Catacombs.

The Catacombs have been used, legally and not, ever since. The French Resistance used them during World War II and, at the same time, so did the Germans. Today, the ossuary, where the bones are kept, is open to the public. The connecting tunnels, however, are not. They were left over from old mining sites and run all through the city. In more recent times, urban explorers, known as “cataphiles,” have taken to walking the maze-like tunnel system, despite the danger of no light and no navigation. It”s been a favorite of graffiti artists since the 1780s, and secret parties are sometimes thrown in them.

So if you”re intrigued but put off by the prospect of getting lost in a subterranean labyrinth, never fear. You can experience it vicariously through MessyNessy”s photos.

And inconspicuous manhole is the entrance to the catacombs. Millions of people walk over this every day.

The way in is a long descent on a narrow ladder.

Finally, she reached the bottom.

If that doesn”t look welcoming, I don”t know what does.

The passages are tight, dark and low-ceilinged. That means you have to keep your head down.

Modern and old wall markings stand side by side.

Some tunnels have street signs corresponding with the street above. But plenty of others don”t.

A compass carved into the wall gives some rudimentary direction.

These things, which look like a cross between a cricket and a spider, make the catacombs their home.

Oh good, a hanging doll. And a strange carving. Nothing creepy here.

The gang thought they”d come to a dead end…

…but that wasn”t the case.

The guide, an experienced cataphile, slips like a mouse through the tiny opening.

“You want me to follow you through where?”

Yes, you have to land on your hands.

After squeezing through the hole in the wall, the gang stopped for some dinner and a drink.

The tight passage opened up into this air raid bunker.

The air raid bunker is under a post office, and was used during WWII.

The walls of the bunker are covered in murals.

Some graffiti in the bunker.

This is only a small portion of the city”s tunnel system. There”s much more down there!

Going into the catacombs is dangerous, and people have been lost forever in them, so it”s best to go with an experienced guide. However, it”s also not exactly legal, so most “tours” are arranged in secret. There are also organizations like We Are the Oracle that host events and parties in abandoned places like this.

Via MessyNessyChic