Tunnels of Bones And Tributes At Tombs

paris-2016-1194

GOING INTO THE CATACOMBS OF PARIS MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE

*

We had only a few days left in Paris and on Tuesday we decided to crisscross the city to see a few of the locations that weren’t on the Museum Pass (which had expired anyway).  Today’s blog is devoted to two of those three sites; the Catacombs of Paris and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.    I want to put a bit of a warning on today’s blog … although there is no graphic content, some of these photos are of bones … the true remains of people who were once living and breathing.  If that bothers you, perhaps skim past to the lower section of this post, where we paid  homage at the monuments  of Pere Lachaise to some of the people who had been laid to rest in a more dignified manner.

*

paris-2016-1186

ARRIVING EARLY AT THE CATACOMBS IS ESSENTIAL UNLESS YOU HAVE A RESERVATION

*

The Catacombs of Paris are a decidedly strange attraction.  The entrance at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy could be easily bypassed were it not for the line which forms early in the morning.  While it is possible to go to the official web site and book tickets in advance, the cost of a reserved time is considerably more.  If you book a tour, be aware that the tour cost doesn’t include the admission fee to the Catacombs as these tours are done by an outside company.  For us, we were simply curious to see the stacked bones in traditional ornamental fashion.  We hadn’t really thought much past that.

*

 paris-2016-1184

THIS IS OUR SPOT IN LINE ARRIVING AT 9:00 AM.  THE ENTRANCE IS AROUND THE CORNER.

*

We arrived at a restaurant across the street at about 8:00 AM and had a leisurely breakfast (our first American style breakfast of our trip with bacon, sausage and eggs), and at 9:00 AM we joined the line for the opening 60 minutes later.  Even after the site opened, they only let 20 people in at a time to space out the visitors, and while that is happening, tours and people with timed tickets can go in ahead of you.  If you arrive later than 10:30, a wait of 3 to 4 hours to get in is not uncommon, so arriving early is a good strategy if you haven’t booked a reserved time. To look at the various prices, go to the official web site at http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

*

paris-2016-1190

AT FIRST, HEADING DOWN INTO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD SEEMED FUN

*

After going past the entrance door, we paid our admission and headed down a curved set of stairs that takes you 60 feet underground.

*

paris-2016-1203

THE ROOF GETS LOWER AND THE LIGHT STARTS TO GET A LITTLE DIMMER

*

Once you reach the lower tunnels, you begin the walk through stone-lined paths in fairly well lit conditions, but as you continue on, the tunnels get narrower and the light gets dimmer.  The path that you take will cover 1.5 kilometres, and this is not a circle route.  In fact, when you exit the Catacombs you come out at 36 Rue Remy Dumoncel almost a half a kilometre away from where you entered .  This is useful to know so you can orient yourself to your next destination after you have left the tunnels below.

*

paris-2016-1197

THE TUNNELS ARE DAMP AND LONG

*

After walking for about a half a kilometre, you come to the entry to the ossuary for the bones.  In the late 1700s, the cemeteries of Paris were overcrowded, and there was simply no place left to bury more people.  There is a complicated history, but the short story is that burial grounds in central Paris were condemned, and it was decided that the best solution was to exhume the bones of those buried over the past 1200 years from the six central cemeteries, and place them in an ossuary in the catacombs, stacking the bones in a ceremonial fashion.  The Catacombs Of Paris Ossuary now houses the remains of over 6 million people.  What you are about to walk through is … people … stacked side by side, on top of one another, with various bones from their bodies scattered in crypts, vaults and along passageways.

*

paris-2016-1208 THIS SIGN READS YOU ARE INVITED NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING, AND THERE IS NO SMOKING IN THE OSSUARY

*

When you enter and exit the tunnels, you are searched.  Believe it or not, visitors in the past have removed a human skull to take as a souvenir.

*

paris-2016-1215

INITIALLY THE PATTERNS ARE AMAZING.  THE WALLS ARE PILED FROM FLOOR TO CEILING WITH BONES, THE LONG BONES STACKED SUPPORTING THE SKULLS IN ROWS

*

paris-2016-1230

COLUMNS OF BONES CAN BE FOUND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATHS

*

So here’s the thing about doing this walk.  After a short time, it sets in that these were real people.  The skulls show unique features through the eyes and jaws, and you realize, I paid money to stare at the bones of real people.  It starts getting a bit … macabre.

*

paris-2016-1221

SOME OF THE VAULTS ARE NOT SO NEATLY STACKED AND GO BACK OVER 75 FEET

*

Eventually it becomes overwhelming, and you come to areas that are literally piles of bones tossed into an area.

*

paris-2016-1216

LONG BONES STACKED ON TOP OF ONE ANOTHER

*

We started taking pictures for the first 15 minutes, and then … it just felt … wrong.  We were done with the ossuary, but it wasn’t done with us.  Remember how I said it was a one way passage?  We still had 3/4 of a kilometre to walk to get out … past the remains of millions of people.  We watched as people posed their children beside formations of skulls like it was the entrance to a Disney ride … but it wasn’t.  And now we know … we don’t ever have to go back.  For those with a morbid curiosity, you may find this site of great interest, or perhaps you are an anthropologist with an interest in how the bones were stacked and what you can learn about the individuals from their remains, but for us … we felt uncomfortable and were glad to make it out into the open air.

*

paris-2016-1318

AFTER A MORNING UNDERGROUND, IT WAS TIME FOR LUNCH

*

We were truly in need of a bite of food and a nice glass of wine and  to make us feel better we added on dessert at this little cafe right near the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

*

paris-2016-1322

THE PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY IS LIKE A SMALL CITY

*

Unlike our morning adventure, the afternoon trip through the Pere Lachaise Cemetery was very pleasant.  There are walking tours that you can take, but our schedule on this day was sporadic and we decided to try and locate the various tombs and monuments of some of the people we wanted to pay tribute to on our own.  We got a map, and set out on a quest to visit a number of artists we admired.   The cemetery is filled with narrow cobbled streets and literally hundreds of thousands of monuments.   Each numbered section on the above map has anywhere between 500 and several thousand markers.

*

paris-2016-1320

THE GATES OF PERE LACHAISE REVEAL LITTLE OF WHAT LIES BEYOND

*

paris-2016-1321

IN SOME AREAS, WIDE AVENUES STRETCH OUT BETWEEN THE TOMBS

*

paris-2016-1336

IN OTHER AREAS SLOPING PATHWAYS TAKE YOU FROM MONUMENT TO MONUMENT

*

paris-2016-1335

TOMBS AND MONUMENTS ARE ALL JUMBLED TOGETHER WHICH MAKES FINDING A PARTICULAR TOMB A CHALLENGE

*

We gathered chestnuts that had fallen from the trees near the entrance and vowed that at each tomb we stopped at, we would leave a chestnut as a symbol that the person we were visiting was still thought of;  a gesture of respect and gratitude for what they had contributed to the world.  Below are a few of the resting places we visited.

*

paris-2016-1327

SOME GRAVES ARE GROWN OVER AND THE NAME OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW IS HARD TO DISCOVER

*

paris-2016-1345

OTHER MONUMENTS HAVE WORKS OF ART AS PART OF THE TRIBUTE

*

paris-2016-1333

CAMILLE PISSARRO THE FAMOUS PAINTER IS BURIED IN A FAMILY PLOT

*

paris-2016-1348

THE GREAT FRENCH WRITER MOLIERE HAS A GRANDER TOMB, BUT IS TRICKY TO FIND. MOLIERE WAS HIS STAGE NAME, BUT HIS FAMILY NAME IS JEAN-BAPTISTE POQUELIN

*

paris-2016-1338

THE TRIBUTE TO JIM MORRISON IS WELL VISITED

*

paris-2016-1343

CHOPIN’S GRAVE IS ELABORATE AND HAS THREE LEVELS

*

paris-2016-1350

THE GREAT ACTRESS SARAH BERNHARDT’ S TOMB IS FOUND UNDER A LOW STONE ARCH

*

paris-2016-1351

IN THE CENTRE OF THE TRIBUTES YOU CAN SEE ONE OF THE CHESTNUTS WE PLACED AS WE MADE OUR WAY AROUND THE CEMETERY.  THANK YOU SARAH BERNHARDT FOR SHARING YOUR GIFTS WITH THE WORLD

*

paris-2016-1354

THE GREAT CHANTEUSE EDITH PIAF IS BURIED WITH HER FAMILY

*

paris-2016-1365

THIS SIMPLE GRAVE IS THE RESTING PLACE FOR GETRUDE STEIN AND ALICE B. TOKLAS, WHO ARE BURIED TOGETHER

*

paris-2016-1378

THE GRAVE OF OSCAR WILDE WAS BEING DAMAGED BY VISITORS KISSING THE MONUMENT WITH LIPSTICK ON, LEAVING A PRINT.  IT IS NOW SURROUNDED BY PLEXI-GLASS AND IS THE MOST VISITED MONUMENT IN THE CEMETERY

*paris-2016-1346

OTHER MONUMENTS SIMPLY DRAW ONE’S EYE.  WHAT IS THE STORY OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW?

*

paris-2016-1362

SCULPTURES RISE TO THE SKY IN THE SECTION OF THE CEMETERY DEVOTED TO VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST.   THIS IS A MOVING SECTION OF THE CEMETERY, WITH MANY HEART-BREAKING MONUMENTS AND INSCRIPTIONS

*

paris-2016-1383

THE COLUMBARIUM HOLDS THE ASHES OF HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN NICHES BOTH ABOVE AND BELOW THE GROUND

*

paris-2016-1385

THE GREAT DANCER ISADORA DUNCAN HAS HER ASHES ON THE OUTER PART OF THE COLUMBARIUM

*

paris-2016-1384

BELOW GROUND THERE ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF NICHES

*

Visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery is well worth the time. It is a place to reflect on the lives of the people who are buried here.  It is a chance to see monuments of beauty and pay tribute.  We were particularly glad to stop at Oscar Wilde’s tomb, for his story The Selfish Giant was the inspiration for our musical The Giant’s Garden and we owe him a debt of gratitude for creating that story.   If you have the interest and time and the weather is fair,  several hours at Pere Lachaise makes for a lovely afternoon.  As for us … there was one rather big item left on our agenda.

*

Tomorrow … The Eiffel Tower.

*

paris-2016-1198

Fenton & White

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s