la vie sous-terraine.
The Paris Underground Display at the Philadelphia flower show was one of my favorites… Yes, it was a bit avant-garde, and maybe my interest had been peaked by a recent issue of National Geographic magazine on the Paris underground. In any case I found many of the displays fascinating once you get over all the skulls and bones.
Paris has a deeper and stranger connection to its underground than almost any city. The City of Lights sits atop one of the world's largest mazes — home to mysterious vagabonds, renegade artists, and entire chambers filled with human bones. The miles of tunnels and catacombs underlying Paris are essentially former quarries, dating from Roman times, from which much of the stone was dug to build the city.
There are more than 177 miles of man-made tunnels and disused quarries under the streets of Paris. These subterranean spaces have become a focus for urban culture and creativity, resulting in a private treasure-house of art, music and writing. The illicit visitors who produce art in the Paris quarries are known as Cataphiles
Underground Paris is a place unchanged for centuries, a place where the dead outnumber the living on the surface three-fold. It is a historical imprint that cannot be bulldozed or knocked down, as any change to this labyrinth could result in catastrophic cave-ins and buildings to collapse on the surface. The walls and ceilings of the caverns and tunnels reflect this history, with graffiti and engravings — some centuries old — reflecting the thoughts and actions of the cross-section of those people underground. The tunnels tell the stories of everyone from sewer workers and diggers, to revolutionaries and French resistance.
Today, visitors can take “official” guided tours around a tightly restricted section, Les Catacombes, where the remains of up to six million Parisians were transferred from overcrowded cemeteries in the late 1700s.
To learn more about the secrets beneath the streets of Paris, check out National Geographics – CATAPHILA FROM YOUR COUCH
Bunnies and Lions, oh-my!