Grizzly corridors packed with the remnants of  the cities forgotten citizens. The overflowing residents moved from their resting places and crowded into the labyrinth of snaking tunnels beneath the thriving city.

Anything that delves into the world’s biggest cadaver mosaic instantly piques my interest.

For example, I keep seeing this As Above, so Below Trailer on YouTube, and I really want to see it. Not because the catacombs mutate into some sort of maze of the mind (that’s what I’m getting out of the trailer, at least) but because of the location. I’m a complete sucker for horror with a fascinating location. Set in a mental institution? I’m there. Creepy old castle or abandoned theme park? Sign me up! But then you set it in catacombs, I’m practically drooling.

Check out the trailer:

Rather than wait patiently for my opportunity to see how this film explores the catacombs I’m just going to go on a subterranean graveyard binge and share the results with you here.

maps of the tunnels beneath Paris

According to the almighty power of Wikipedia the first place to be called a catacomb was the system of underground tombs on the Appian Way in Rome, Italy. The story goes that the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul were entombed there.

There are catacombs all over the world, and they generally started as a religious place and grew in their body-counts because they were a sacred space to inter the dead.

Not so for Paris. Their city grew up around the graveyards started in the 4th century. And as the population moved from the waking world to the graveyards they slowly ran out of earth to fill. So they dug up the oldest of the deceased and stacked them into the walls around the graveyards. When that failed to retain anymore bones the people of Paris looked to the old limestone mining tunnels beneath their feet. It wasn’t until after a neighboring  home collapsed under the weight of cadavers stacks against it, that they acted upon this thought. In 1785 they moved millions of the Parisian dead to the catacombs. It took two years of carts filled with bodies to move the inhabitants of the city’s graveyards under the cover of darkness.

What I like to think about, is those people who’s job it was to stack the bones into such complex looking patterns. Who’s job was it to figure out out to make the human body stack like a fresh game of Jenga? I wonder if it affected them at all. Handling the remains of millions of their countrymen.

The lead-man on this part of the project was Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury. Louis was the head of the Paris mine inspection service in 1810, and it was his brain-child to take the dumping of the bodies in the catacombs to a different level. He decorated the tunnels with pieces from old cemeteries, added tablets and archways with warnings engraved into them. He had a room dedicated to uniquely Parisian crystals, and another with all of the skeletal remains with deformities in them.

Today the catacombs are a twisted tourist attraction- and now a film location. But the power of seeing so many bodies all stacked together has yet to lessen.

Interested in reading more?

Here’s some links for your hungry brain:

Les Catacombes

National Geographic explores the Catacombs

And if you like urban spelunking, you’ll love this site:


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