Today, May 13th, we started the day by moving from our apartment in the Marais to the hotel from which our tour is going to start, The Grand Hotel Intercontinental, which is right by the gorgeous Paris opera house. We checked in and then metroed over to the Catacombs of Paris for our up close and decidedly creepy tour of the Catacombs.
Paris, like many cities, was built on limestone, and the catacombs were created by the quarrying of limestone over the ages. As the city grew and houses and other buildings grew and added weight to the honeycombed subterranean areas, Paris started experiencing some horrific cave-ins. Some of these cave-ins had the wholly undesirable effect of dumping bones and partially rotted corpses into the basements of people’s homes as what used to be the areas outside of town where the cemeteries were located became inhabited areas. Finally, in the mid-18th century, the king, Louis the 16th, ordered that all the cemeteries be emptied of their bones, and the bones began to be used to fill up the catacombs.
For approximately 50 years, each cemetery within the city boundaries of Paris was emptied of its bones, and the remains were not exactly treated with reverence. I don’t know what Jim and I were expecting, but what we saw was chamber after chamber stacked with bones (some arranged in intricate patterns, but certainly not labeled or kept together in the vicinity of their original groupings. Jim said the Kansas song “We’re all just dust in the wind” kept playing through his mind. I, however, was reminded of some of the scenes of rampage from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
In any event, there are estimated to be the bones of millions of bodies located here, and many of the bodies from the Revolution, including those of King Louis and Marie Antoinette were also lodged here. Interestingly, as you can probably see from the pictures, really all that is visible from the path are femurs and skulls. When we asked where the rest of the bones were, we were told that the femurs were used like a retaining wall, and all the other bones were just pitched in behind the ones facing the paths. The other somewhat shocking thing is that all the bones are right next to the paths, and we were continuous cautioned not to touch the bones, and not to take any samples home. Our bags were packed as we left the catacombs to ensure that pilferage didn’t happen.
We headed back to the hotel to enjoy some down time in our decidedly more luxurious surroundings, and then it was off to dinner at a restaurant near our hotel recommended by our tour director. The restaurant, la Fontaine Gallion, is a superb seafood restaurant, and we sat on the charming patio in front by the fountain. As many of you know, Paris is an outstanding city for restaurants, but even I, foodie that I am, have been daunted by the sheer volume of the choice here. Paris has over 13,000 restaurants (at least those identified on Trip Advisor), and it is really hard to find a bad one. None of the restaurants we have eaten in thus far have even been ranked in the top 500 restaurants on TA, and the meal we had at la Fontaine Gallion was probably one of the best top 20 dining experiences of my life; yet it is ranked something like 950 on Trip Advisor. All I can say is that it is good we are getting so much exercise, because otherwise we’d be in trouble!