Graveyards—there’s something inherently hair-raising about them, and to many, they’re some of the creepiest and most sacred places on the planet. What’s scarier than your typical, run-of-the-mill cemetery, though?
How about one that houses the remains of millions of Parisians and is located directly underneath France’s capital? Yeah, probably that.
For a city that’s known for its love of fashion, romance, and culture, Paris sure is hiding a dark secret under its streets. These little-known facts about the vast Catacombs of Paris will leave you bewildered.
Top 1: The Catacombs Were Used Throughout World War II By Both Sides
Seeing as the existence of the Catacombs was common knowledge during World War II, as well as the fact that they span so many miles underground, it’s no surprise that they were also used for war. What may surprise you is that both sides used them.
Members of the French Resistance were actively using the underground tunnel system to hide out during the war and plan attacks against the Germans. The Catacombs helped to ensure that they wouldn’t be seen by German spies and would escape detection.
What’s more shocking is that the Nazis also had a presence within the Catacombs and built various bunkers (such as one beneath the Lycee Montaigne secondary school.) Traces of this bunker remain today.
Top 2: Farmers Began Using The Catacombs To Grow Mushrooms
The practice began in the 19th century when a Parisian named Monsieur Chambery ventured down into the tunnels and observed a patch of wild mushrooms growing within a chamber.
He decided to use the abandoned tunnels to begin developing his own champignon de Paris (aka button mushrooms), a practice which was soon recognized and accepted by the Horticultural Society of Paris.
Soon, farmers from all around flocked down there to begin farms of their own. Mushroom farming in the Catacombs became a thriving business venture.
If you know where to look, you can probably find some farmers still down there, growing mushrooms to their hearts’ content. It does make sense when you consider the darkness and humidity down there.
Who knows; the old bones lying around might have acted as some fertilizer for the mushrooms, too.
Top 3: The Bones Are Arranged In ‘Decorative’ Displays
When the bones of the dead were first being taken down into the tunnels via carts in the 1780s, they were simply placed in the tunnels (after a priest said a prayer to keep the dead at peace).
Workers began arranging the old bones into shapes and decorations, such as hearts and circles and lined the walls with skulls and various other ghastly remains.One of the most iconic displays is known as the Barrel.
It consists of a large, circular pillar surrounded by skulls and tibiae which also acts as a support for the roof of the area in which it’s housed, which is referred to as the Crypt of the Passion or the Tibia Rotunda.
The Barrel is a little more morbid than a traditional support beam, but if it works, it works.
Top 4: It Was Once The Site Of A Vintage Wine Heist
It turns out that apart from bones, decay, and death, there’s some pretty good wine on offer within the depths of the catacombs, too.
At least, that was the case in 2017. A gang of French thieves drilled through the limestone walls of the Catacombs into a nearby vault, which was located under an apartment and contained around 300 bottles of vintage wine.
The thieves made off with all the wine, valued at €250,000.
Top 5: Cataphiles Are Creating Communities Inside The Tunnels
The cataphiles are a group of urban explorers with a penchant for spending vast amounts of time within the depths of the Catacombs for their enjoyment and adventure.
While they might sound like a modern-day cult, they are deeply respectful of both the dead and the tunnels and create maps so that people don’t get lost within the vast necropolis.
They are insiders, and information about how to gain access to the catacombs is kept within the tightly knit group.
The cataphiles have been creating and building their community within the old quarries and tunnels for years. Some paint art, furnished rooms, or party with fellow tunnel-dwellers and some visitors to merely disconnect from the outside world.