The Hidden Depths of the City of Light’s Underground
This week’s guest blog post written by Sam Rosario, mother and resident of the greatest city in the world, NYC, delves into the hidden depths of Paris’ underground. Sam is a writer for Content Blossom, who enjoys putting pen to paper for her pursuits and writing about things she enjoys and is inspired by. When she’s not focusing on her writing, she’s spending time with her family in her favourite city in the world.
The love capital of Europe, and maybe even the world, still has a lot of secrets to unveil. Some of them darker than others.
Even if you’ve been walking down Parisian streets for years, and pride yourself on knowing every nook and cranny, chances are you don’t know what enigmas the hidden depths of the city hold. No worries.
This article will uncover some of the better kept secrets of Paris’ underground and, using it as inspiration, you can also do some detective work of your own.
Paris is known for having a good subway system – with 303 stops and 16 lines; but make no mistake in thinking that’s the only thing lurking underground.
Here’s what you should know and experience in order to get a better feel for the soul of this ancient city:
We’re starting big.
There’s a large and complex network of underground tunnels, which started out as mines and were later home to the criminals and misfortunate of the past. Nowadays, the tunnels serve as a gathering point of the more adventurous youth and present a new challenge to urban trailblazers.
There are three known main networks, the biggest being the Grand Réseau Sud (large south network) lying under the 5th , 6th , 14th, and 15th arrondissements of Paris.
The mines were explored in search of Lutetian Limestone, a versatile building material used in the construction of the city since Ancient Roman times.
Wandering the mines is strictly prohibited and heavily fined, which doesn’t stop some of the more enthusiastic explorers – referred to as cataphiles.
In general, cataphiles can be divided into two groups: those seeking adventure and old school mysteries, and those who love going to underground raves.
The only entrance: manholes around the city.
As some of the tunnels have never been mapped, and the whole network is a maze, being lost is easier than breathing – we’re not sure if these groups of people are bold and courageous or just plain crazy!
There’s around 185 miles of passageways and tunnels entwining and leading to the deep ends of the Parisian underbelly – The Catacombs.
The Parisian catacombs hold ancient remains of six million people, mostly from congested cemeteries. The idea of designing the underground ossuary arose in the 1770s, after a series of cemetery basement collapses. Starting from 1786, covered wagons would transfer the human remains to the mine shaft at Rue de la Tombe-Issoire.
The early 19th century brought attention to the ossuary as it became a place of interest for private events. After that, it became open to the public and it now presents a part of the Parisian Museum network.
Since only parts of the catacombs are open to public viewing, we can only wonder what secrets the still unavailable sections hold.
The Bold History of the Underground
We’re talking about a huge network of tunnels, with secret entrances all over the city – so it’s a given that many of them have been used in historically important moments.
If there’s something the French are famous for it’s their revolutions and inability to settle for anything less than what they deem best. There is graffiti in the tunnels dating back to the times of the French Revolution, which happened in the last decade of the 18th century. How’s that for some history?
The tunnels also played a big role in World Wars I and II, as both Nazis and the Resistance used parts of them to build secret hideouts. Due to the massiveness of the network, it was the safest place the Resistance could be at whilst plotting ways to defeat the suppressors. Guaranteed isolation, with threat of death to anyone who tried to locate them and got lost in the process. Not a bad place for a secret den.
Paris truly is a city of opposites. A dark, thought-provoking, and downright wretched past wrapped around bright, artistic, and romantic modernism.
European capitals have deep roots and hidden depths, and nowhere is that more true than in Paris – whose hidden depths inspired great literary works like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables. We don’t believe anyone can call themselves a true Parisian if they’ve never explored the darker corners of history, and spent some time trying to uncover the answer to the open questions of the past:
Who decided it was a good idea to organize parties and private events in the ossuary?
How is it that there is a large section of the mines still unmapped and unexplored?
Where exactly were the Nazi and Resistance hideaways and what exactly were these parties in
opposition using them for?
How strong is the subculture of the Parisian mines? How does one come across information
How many people we see in passing every day have experienced the urge, rush and drive
connected with the mine exploration?
How many of the people we’ve never considered anywhere close to adventurous are closet
history enthusiasts who explore the mazes just for the fun of it?
We hope you’ll be able to uncover the answer to at least one of these questions, or that you have at
least developed some of your own.
Paris: the City of Light and mysteries.
July 23, 2018
June 26, 2018