It took me about 7 months to finally discover Paris’ REAL catacombs. At first I did like most tourists and visited the supervised attraction, which, don’t get me wrong, is absolutely amazing and educational, but I knew it didn’t end there… Under Paris there is an entire city that is still secretly thriving, and it goes way beyond squats, 70 ft deep. Bums won’t dare touch the surface, only freak “cataphile” aficionados do.
The Freaks aka Cataphiles
Are individuals who have revived Paris’ catacombs by taking the liberty of reopening forbidden entrances, recreating underground maps and selling them on the streets (5 €), giving illegal guided tours, tagging the place up and converting the lair’s walls into an endless canvas, throwing mysterious parties, serving food (underground restaurant style), holding vernissages, cinema screenings, and just about anything along the lines.
Yes it’s illegal (as of 1955), yes it’s scary, yes it’s crazy, yes it’s fun.
*Vernissage – is a gallery opening event where they usually serve wine, champagne, cheese, crackers, etc.*
A little Historical Macabre
Back in the 1700s Paris decided to exhume corpses from their resting places due to the rancid odor. Cemeteries were stinking up the city so they fixed the problem by excavating over a million deceased souls and “re” buried them 70ft under—and it wasn’t just one grave per body, but multiple maze-like dungeons with numerous labyrinthian pathways that span the entire city of Paris, underground.
They just took em’ and just threw em’ there, leaving it to the quarry miners to figure it out, but in the 70’s an interior designer made a work of art out of the bones by symmetrically and beautifully placing them against one another, creating an eerie feast for the eyes. Now (what I was mentioning before) a very, tiny portion of this underground world is open to tourists to appreciate the work and history.
(Paris Catacombs) ***Metro lines 4 or 6 – Stop: Denfert-Rocherau***
Note: On your visit you might see some defaced skulls, please don’t follow this terrible trend.
Just remember: These bodies were taken out of their resting places, thrown around, forgotten about, and lost.
BackTo My Reality
Rumors of an underground city grew more and more while I lived in Paris. At parties I would meet serious cataphiles, followers and freaks lurking the streets who would reveal themselves by provoking others to dig deep and unearth a mysterious scene that secretly creeps against society— to rediscover decayed bones and deceased souls forgotten a 1,000 years passed…
Literally within my last week in Paris the opportunity arose without my seeking it. I thought it was meant to be, so went ahead and pushed for the kill; a guy who did not at all seem like an aficionado knew of an “opening” on a street and claimed there would be a huge underground party starting at that particular entrance. He gave us an address where to meet him.
We went, looking, searching, calling the dude back, thinking he was standing us up—that it wasn’t true. Oh, but it was. Our paths finally met and he lead us to a random sewer hole on a busy boulevard in the middle of Paris.
Yes, a ninja turtle-like sewer opening that was dark, wet, dirty, smelly, and all of the above. Other people seemed to know the spot; crawling and falling in and out of the tunnel, grinning from ear to ear, with headlamps, rain boots, and the whole deal. We figured it was it was legit, so we whipped out our cellphone lights and without any hesitation slipped in, following our “guides.”
On The “Other Side” Of It
Tiny metallic, iron ladders led down and morphed into an eternity of a million mini, stoned steps. The hairs on our bodies slowly stood as our skin stiffened, fainting and fading with the little light left behind us as we delved deeper into the abyss; temperatures drastically dropped and darkness consumed us.
Hitting solid ground, we regrouped ourselves through whispers and followed on, running into lost individuals pleading and pulling a different direction. A few walls graffitied with accented highlighted arrows distorted us as we attempted to follow, then would abruptly disappear or not coincide with our direction. We ignored it.
Swamps of muddy marsh covered our feet. The walls dripped, oozing sweat as we slithered across barriers of con-cave rocks. Grasping onto one another, or who ever was was around, screeching and squealing each other’s name to keep the comfort and sane (in English of course–made it a lot easier on our parts considering everyone else spoke French).
As we drew closer our hearts gradually thrived, thumping louder and stronger with each step, involuntarily bouncing to a surround sound. A generator gently hummed harmoniously, singing a song of salvation with flickering beams of light weaving through waves of music.
Relieved of our final destination our insides screamed success. We held our breaths and squeezed through one last crack that instantly submersed us into a sweaty, sealed space that swallowed you into a mass of zombie-like swaying people, like you couldn’t imagine.
It was real. All of the rumors, the stories, and tales of horror. We were in, in this underground grave-rave secret spot under the entire earth. Everyone in the world, no matter what time zone or pin point they might be partying on, I knew that there was no place anywhere else partying 80 feet underground on the edge of the earth’s core.
No Connection, No Calling The Police, No Turning Back, No Nothing.
Low lit and deep, dark cold cryptic pathways lead to black-light lit holes, caves and enclosed rock for-mated rooms that slowly separated and dispersed, but then stealthy synced and wrapped back around to a main maze where the music played.
And trying to avoid thrown, crushed cadavers covering the ground, we exhumed and unearth every nook and cranny of this once mined, quarried-bubble. There were two sets of music, so it felt and sounded pretty vast, but wasn’t entirely.
You could wander, feel lost, but never actually get lost. Until of course you squeezed back out of the same crack we came in through.
We drank and drugged ourselves with delusion, running around in circles. It induced us to feel bigger, as opposed to how small we seemed when we first arrived; discovering multiple dead ends, that inch of boredom spurred within us, so we decidedly leave.
Without our “guides,” we exit back out through the main crack attempting to amuse ourselves by remembering the path. Seeking to pursue the pleasant adrenaline of getting lost—we chase some for a bit—panic, but our nervous systems sub-consciously recalls the route back.
Scurrying up, out through now our maze-chamber, I consistently look back into the void behind me, taking pride in the clandestine-like life we lead.
Eventually, we burst out from under the earth like vampires burning back into reality, sun shining and all.
And that was it.
Pedestrians passing by stopped, looked at us as if we were the Night of The Living Dead (we probably were), then continued walking.
~ FIN ~
Interested? Catacombing? Becoming a Cataphile?
Well, I can’t exactly give you the address where I found my first secret entry point. According to cataphiles there are numerous openings, but and not all of them stay open. They may close and re-open just for a particular night (kind of like those DYI parties you might find in Brooklyn, only difference is these are literally underground, way underground).
These entry points are ILLEGAL, so it’s best to discover the world on your own by asking some dude who might be wearing a skull necklace of the sorts. It took me a while to find the world, but keep in mind that you can always visit the pleasant, morbid, attraction…