The first time I visited the Paris catacombs, it was the summer of 1999 and I was spending one month riding the EuroRail and sleeping in hostels (and on floors, and in parks) while backpacking across six European countries with my best friend. It was the greatest thing we could think to do after my graduation – our goal was to visit as many of the attractions listed in the Weird Europe travel guidebook as we could – so we did and, of course, several catacombs were on the roster.
Though it was my great misfortune to begin a vegetarian stint just before our journey, we survived – on French fries, street ice cream, and wine-fueled adrenaline. I defied the June heat in my 20-hole Doc Martins, maintained my dreaded undercut with disposable razors and shot close to ten rolls of cheap film. My budget for the month was $1,500, cash. It was a great summer.
I recently had the chance to see the Paris catacombs again and found them more impressive than I remembered. Maybe it was the lack of Weird-Europe-induced burnout (by the time we made it there that summer, we’d seen places like the Sedlec bone church and Amsterdam’s Vrolic museum), or that this time I actually paid attention to the amusing signs around the crypts, or the excellent espresso I finished before descending into the damp darkness – whatever the case, I loved every moment.
Of course, all this didn’t stop me from entertaining the potential improvements I could instill, given the chance, like more dripping water, fog, spooky noises and atmospheric lighting – because the bony remnants of over six million bodies in an 18th century ossuary just weren’t moody enough, apparently.
Now, more of my photos accompanied by some of my favorite Paris catacomb epigrams. Enjoy… If you dare! (Disappears into a cloud of violet smoke, flapping her cape.)
Si vous avez vu quelque fois mourir un homme, considérez toujours que le même sort vous attend.
If you ever saw a man die, keep in mind that the same fate awaits you.
Pensez le matin que vous n’irez peut-être pas jusques au soir et au soir que vous n’irez peut-être pas jusques au matin.
Realize in the morning that you may not make it ’till the evening, and in the evening that you may not get to the next morning.
Heureux celui qui a toujours devant les yeux l’heure de sa mort et qui se dispose tous les jours à mourir.
Fortunate he who keeps the hour of death in sight, and who is constantly ready to die.
Mortuo homine impio nulla spes
Pour l’impie mort, il n’y a plus d’espoir.
To the dead impious man, there is no more hope.
Où est-elle la Mort?, toujours présente au passé. À peine est-elle présente que déjà elle n’est plus.
Where is Death? Always present in the past. The moment she’s present, she already was.
Un monstre sans raison aussi bien que sans yeux
Est la Divinité qu’on adore en ces lieux
On l’appele la Mort et son cruel empire
S’étend également sur tout ce qui respire.
A monster with no reason and no eyes, is the Divinity one adores in this place. It’s called Death, and its cruel empire spreads over every breathing soul.