Subject: The underground caves & tunnels of Paris (the catacombs of Paris)
From: Alex Kemp
Date: Saturday, 24 November 2012 09:33:54 +0000
To: Micaela Kemp, Liisa Kemp, Davin Kemp


Radio program:

Gathering within the caves & tunnels under Paris
Access is via a narrow manhole

Do you remember me telling you about the caves of Nottingham? Well, Paris in France is even more famous for it’s caves & tunnels under the city than Nottingham is.

The caves & tunnels began because the houses in Paris were built from Limestone that was quarried from *beneath* the city. That digging continued for decades. It was unregulated and eventually began to become dangerous:- when some houses (and even a graveyard) collapsed into holes that opened up underneath them, the Parisian authorities finally put a stop to the digging. That still left the city with countless kilometres of tunnels and large caves. Some of the caves are so big that a 1,000 people can fit inside them.

Of course, the citizens of Paris began to use the caves and the tunnels. One (perhaps) rather gruesome use was as an Ossuary (‘os’ is French for “bone”). Paris began to run out of space to bury it’s dead, so the authorities ordered that the skeletons should be dug up after a few years and transported to the tunnels, allowing the grave-spaces to be re-used. Parts of the network became filled with millions of bones & skulls!

Today, the Paris authorities ban folks from visiting the tunnels on the grounds that it is too dangerous. The French people have a strong tradition of ignoring what they are told to do (one of their better traits) and there are lots of groups of people who visit the tunnels as often as they can.

One of the best stories in the Radio programme is of a group called ‘UX’. They broke into the Pantheon (a Parisian monument where France’s most revered citizens are buried) from below via the tunnels. That monument also contained a famous 19th Century clock, but it was broken and did not work. UX did not like that, and one of their group, who was a professional clockmaker, worked with 7 others every night for months & months and fixed it, so that now it worked. You might think that the curators of the Pantheon would be pleased. Instead, they sent in another clockmaker, and he removed parts from the clock so that it stopped again. The French really are very strange people.

Alex Kemp