Take a Virtual Tour of the Paris Catacombs

The Paris Cat­a­combs is “one of those places,” wrote pho­tog­ra­ph­er Félix Nadar, “that every­one wants to see and no one wants to see again.” If any­one would know, Nadar would. He spent three months in and out of the under­ground city of death, with its macabre piles of skulls and cross­bones, tak­ing pho­tographs (see here) that would help turn it into an inter­na­tion­al­ly famous tourist attrac­tion. In these days of quar­an­tine, no one can see it; the site is closed until fur­ther notice. But if you’re the type of per­son who enjoys tour­ing necrop­olis­es, you can still get your fix with a vir­tu­al vis­it.

Why would any­one want to do this, espe­cial­ly dur­ing a glob­al out­break? The Cat­a­combs have attract­ed seek­ers after mor­bid curiosi­ties and spir­i­tu­al and philo­soph­i­cal truths for over two hun­dred years, through rev­o­lu­tions, mas­sacres, and plagues.

A stark, haunt­ing reminder of what Nadar called “the egal­i­tar­i­an con­fu­sion of death,” they wit­ness mute­ly, with­out euphemism, to the future we are all assured, no mat­ter our rank or posi­tion. They began as a dis­or­dered pile of bones in the late 18th cen­tu­ry, trans­ferred from over­crowd­ed ceme­ter­ies and became a place where “a Merovin­gian king remains in eter­nal silence next to those mas­sa­cred in Sep­tem­ber ‘92” dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion.

Con­tem­pla­tions of death, espe­cial­ly in times of war, plague, famine, and oth­er shocks and crises, have been an inte­gral part of many cul­tur­al cop­ing mech­a­nisms, and often involve med­i­ta­tions on corpses and grave­yards. The Cat­a­combs are no dif­fer­ent, a sprawl­ing memen­to mori named after the Roman cat­a­combs, “which had fas­ci­nat­ed the pub­lic since their dis­cov­ery,” as the offi­cial site notes. Expand­ed, ren­o­vat­ed, and rebuilt dur­ing the time of Napoleon and lat­er dur­ing the exten­sive ren­o­va­tions of Paris in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, the site was first “con­se­crat­ed as the ‘Paris Munic­i­pal Ossuary’ on April 7, 1786” and opened to the pub­lic in 1809.

It is a place that reminds us how all con­flicts end. To the “litany of roy­al and impov­er­ished dead from French his­to­ry,” writes Alli­son Meier at the Pub­lic Domain Review, Nadar added in his essay on the Cat­a­combs “the names of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors like Max­im­i­lien Robe­spierre and Jean-Paul Marat.” Rumi­na­tions on the uni­ver­sal nature of death may be an odd diver­sion for some, and for oth­ers an urgent reminder to find out what mat­ters to them in life. Learn more about the fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of the Paris Cat­a­combs here and begin your vir­tu­al vis­it here.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold Félix Nadar’s Pio­neer­ing Pho­tographs of the Paris Cat­a­combs (1861)

Notre Dame Cap­tured in an Ear­ly Pho­to­graph, 1838

19th-Cen­tu­ry Skele­ton Alarm Clock Remind­ed Peo­ple Dai­ly of the Short­ness of Life: An Intro­duc­tion to the Memen­to Mori

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Tourstravelfinder says:

    Hey there, Open Cul­ture team! Just had to drop a com­ment after read­ing your arti­cle about the vir­tu­al tour of the Paris Cat­a­combs. First of all, let me say how much I appre­ci­ate your ded­i­ca­tion to bring­ing us these incred­i­ble cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences from the com­fort of our homes. It’s like you’re our vir­tu­al tour guides, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

    Now, onto the Paris Cat­a­combs. I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed by the mys­te­ri­ous and eerie atmos­phere of this under­ground world, and your arti­cle tru­ly brought it to life. The vivid descrip­tions and the embed­ded video tour allowed me to immerse myself in this haunt­ing­ly beau­ti­ful place. I almost felt like I was there, explor­ing the labyrinthine tun­nels and admir­ing the intri­cate arrange­ments of skulls and bones. It’s incred­i­ble how tech­nol­o­gy has made it pos­si­ble for us to ven­ture into such places vir­tu­al­ly. The his­tor­i­cal con­text you pro­vid­ed was a bonus; it added depth to the expe­ri­ence, mak­ing me appre­ci­ate the cat­a­combs even more. Keep up the fan­tas­tic work, and I can’t wait to see where you take us next on our vir­tu­al adven­tures! 🌟

    Thanks again for shar­ing this fan­tas­tic vir­tu­al tour with us, and I look for­ward to read­ing more cap­ti­vat­ing arti­cles from Open Cul­ture. You guys tru­ly make learn­ing about the world’s won­ders a delight­ful expe­ri­ence. Cheers to your team and the incred­i­ble con­tent you cre­ate!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.