Paris Catacombs: A Walk Through the Land of the Dead

Located just below the public square in Paris, Place Denfert-Rochereau, lie the remains of about 6 million people. Opened in the late 18th century, the remains are spread through a series of renovated tunnels and caverns that used to be Paris’ stone mines.

Paris’ graveyards and mass graves began overflowing and causing hazardous sanitary conditions, so in 1786 the transfer of all of Paris’ dead to the abandoned stone mines began, ultimately taking 2 years to complete. Initially, the bones were placed into a well in the area, and then were distributed throughout the mines by workers. For years the mines were simply used as a depository for the bones, with no organization or particular placement to them, however in 1810 Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury began renovations to turn the depository into a mausoleum.

Besides housing long gone Parisian residents, the Catacombs have a history that is deeply intertwined into the history of France. For instance, the dead from the riots at Place de Greve, Hotel de Brienne, and Rue Meslee all found a resting place in the Catacombs. The French Resistance also used the tunnels during World War II and Nazi soldiers used the Catacombs as an underground bunker.

Today, the Catacombs are open to the public where you can wander the caverns and tunnels and bear witness to a history of Paris’ dead. In this week’s featured pictures we take you into the underground burial site beneath Paris.

The unassuming initial entry into the Catacombs

After following a long gravel corridor you reach the offical entry into the Catacombs

Interesting pattern of skulls make up this wall in the Catacombs

There is definitely no shortage of interesting artwork added to the Catacombs over the years. This picture shows a gargoyle carved into the wall by an urban caver, located in the off-limits area. Picture courtesy of Loupiote.Com

Massive amounts of skulls and assorted bones are strategically placed to form walls throughout the tunnels

A single cross surrounded by Paris' dead

Bones piled high on a tunnel floor

A tiny example of the large amount of interesting graffiti within the Catacombs

If you’re interested in seeing some video footage of the Catacombs:

Take a Cruise Down the Seine River



Taking one of the available cruises down the Seine River gives one of the best views of Paris. Depending on which river boat tour you take, the cruise can last anywhere from 1-3 hours and is a really inexpensive way to experience some of Paris’ extensive beauty.

Tours are offered between March and November and are generally pretty inexpensive, with fares for children starting at only$5.20 and adults at only $10. Sun decks, bars, and even restaurants are found on some of these boats. The boats that have the restaurants generally offer dinner tours as well, which can be especially inspiring – viewing Paris at night is spectacular. Be sure and wear your dinner jackets and ties, men, if you take one of the dinner tours

The Seine river, which flows through the center of Paris, used to be a the main form of transportation for the city and provided added protection. The Seine is such a beautiful river that it has long been revered in the art world and has been the subject of many paintings. When you take a cruise down the Seine, you’ll be able to see beautiful old bridges, old homes gracing the river, and get a unique perspective on historical landmarks such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

For more information and to schedule your tour, here are 2 of the most notable river cruise company’s:

Bateaux-Mouche Tours

Phone # 01-40-76-99-99

Website: www.bateaux-mouches.fr

 

Paris Canal

Phone # 01-42-40-96-97

Arc de Triomphe


When in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe is hard to miss. Standing 160ft high and 148ft wide at the end of the Champs-Elysees boulevard, in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, the Arc towers over every other structure nearby.

Upon commission from Napoleon, this beautiful structure was designed in 1806 by Jean Chalgrin, who’s design was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus. Chalgrin passed in 1811, and all architectural work was taken over by Jean-Nicholas Huyot. Work on the Arc was halted during the Bourbon Restoration, however finally in 1836 the third architect, Hericart de Thury, completed its construction.

The monument honors the soldiers who fought and died for France during the Napoleonic Wars, however the Arc also features the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame kept burning. This addition was added after the first World War on Armistice Day, and is a tribute and remembrance for all unknown soldiers who fought and died for their country. Since the addition of the tomb, it has been customary for all troops to march around the tomb instead of underneath it as a sign of respect for the tomb. Even Hitler ordered his troops to march around the Arc instead of underneath.

The Arc is quite a significant landmark for Parisians and Quite a few notable events have taken place at the Arc de Triomphe since its construction:

  • Napoleon’s body was carried underneath it after his passing, as well as the body of Victor Hugo being displayed there before burial.
  • In 1919, Charles Godefroy actually flew his plane under the Arc.
  • The annual Bastille Day parade takes place using the Arc as a center point
  • Successful troops home from war have rallied here in past years
  • German troops have marched through the Arc

After the Arc de Triomphe was built, 3 more Arc’s were actually built in an attempt to prolong the Avenue des Champs-Elysees: Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, and the Grand Arche. These monuments all form Paris’s Axe Historique.

Attractions Map of Paris


Because Paris has so much to see and do, it’s always nice to get a birds eye view of what’s there and make your touring plan. Below is a map displaying some of Paris’ main attractions and must-see’s that may help. (You can click on the map to see the full image)

Musee Picasso



The Musee Picasso is located in a beautiful 17th century mansion called Hotel Sale. Located on rue de Thorigny in the Marais district, the Hotel Sale is was built between 1656 and 1659 for a “tax farmer” who became wealthy off his collections of taxes on salt, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the district. The mansion changed ownership through the years, when it finally settled on hosting the artwork of Pablo Picasso in 1976 and was converted and restored by architect Roland Simounet after he outbid 3 other contractors.

The Musee Picasso houses over 3,500 paintings, drawings, ceramics, wood sculptures, metal sculptures, and sketchbooks.Most of the pieces of art were donated by family members or from Picasso’s personal collection, of which he always said “I am the greatest collector of Picassos in the world.”, however a great number of collection was also either purchased from or donated by miscellaneous collectors. Also included within the museum are artworks by other artists such as Degas, Matisse, and Rousseau, which were in Picasso’s personal art collection.

The set up of the museum follows a chronological sequence for the most part, however there are a few rooms dedicated to certain themes. Also found within the museum is a great collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, manuscripts, and other things all relevant to Picasso. One room of interest also contains the caricatured work of period artists displayed. Special exhibitions are also held from time to time on the museums 2nd floor.

Unfortunately, the museum is currently under renovations and will not re-open until 2013 (you can view their memo here). However, they did organize for a series of pieces to be displayed around the world in the meantime. The show you can still catch this year is:

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto Canada – April 28 – August 23, 2012

Over 200 works are also on loan to several museums in Paris and surrounding areas. These museums include: National Museum of Modern Art – Centre George Pompidou, Orangerie Museum, and Museum of Modern City Art Paris.

 

 

Paris’ Museum of the History of Medicine

Step right up and see the fantastic world of…medieval and historical medical instruments and artifacts? Absolutely! The Museum of the History of Medicine, or Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine, is creepy – but the fantastic kind of creepy! This museum is nestled on a tiny little street named Rue de l’Ecole de Médecine in the heart of Paris. It’s actually housed upstairs in a giant university building, and can be hard to miss, but just follow the signs pointing the way once inside the university.

Once inside, you’ll be greeted with what seems to be a beautiful little museum – that is until you peer into the glass encasements. Behind the glass you’ll find a wonderfully creepy and weird display of old medicinal and surgical instruments and pieces – some of which seem more like they were used for torture than medicine. Take a look below at some of the pictures below to get an idea, but keep in mind that a picture hardly does them justice:

Medieval Doctor's Mask - This was worn specifically during the Black Plague epidemic and was thought to ward off the Plague and keep the doctor's safe.

Medieval Hand Powered Chain Saw - Ummm, scary?

Medieval Hearing Aid - Okay, not very creepy, but could you imagine using a shell as a hearing aid?

Not pictured here, but there’s even a table made completely out of human tissue, organs, a foot, and ears that was made and given to Napoleon. Yuck! In short, definitely make sure to add the Museum of the History of Medicine to your museum circuit while in Paris. You’ll also be happy to know, it’s only €3.50 a head. Inexpensive fun!

Visit the museum’s website for more information: http://www.parisdescartes.fr/fre/CULTURE/Musees/Musee-d-Histoire-de-la-Medecine

Not into creepy museums? Check out what the Louvre has going on here.

 

 

Paris in March 2012

Paris in springtime – plenty to see, do, and eat. There’s also no small amount of local activities and unique Parisian events you can experience during March. Here’s our list of local happenings this month you should check out while in Paris.

Foire du Trone

If giant amusement parks are your thing, this is a must-visit. Held on the lawns of the Pelouse de Reuilly, this fair begins at the end of March and runs until the end of May. It actually dates all the way back to A.D. 957 from when farmers and merchants gathered to trade their goods. Acrobats, ferris wheels, fire eaters, carousels, and much more make this a pretty entertaining hotspot for a few months.

Banlieues Bleues

A jazz festival taking place between March 16th and April 13th that features an assortment of telented musicians from around the world. You won’t want to miss these smooth sounds!

Dancing Through Life

This is a wonderful exhibition that is being held at The Centre Georges Pompidou. It will feature influences shared between dancing and visual arts. Held through April 2nd, seeing the comparison of art and dance is a truly unique experience everyone can enjoy this spring!

Trompe l’oeil

Directly translated into “Tricking the Eye”, this is a show that opened in February of this year and runs until November of 2013. This exhibit has over 400 paintings, sculptures, and textiles that were crafted specifically to trick the eye. It’s being held at the Paris Arts Decoratifs museum.

Festival of the Imagination

Held on the boulevard Raspail and running from March 19th – June 17th, you can come explore cultural revolutions from the world over expressed in dance, music, and traditional displays. This is truly a unique festival for Paris, and anywhere for that matter. Something you won’t want to miss!

Salon Vivre aurement bio et nature 2012 trade show

Paris’s “go green” trade show! This is held at the Parc floral de Paris from March 16th thru March 19th.

La Bonheur Show

Presented by the Lido revue, this is a show that consists of 4 scenes: “La Femme” celebrating women and love, “Paris je t’aime” celebrating Parisian fashion and nightlife, “L’Inde Legendaire” celebrates Shiva and Indian culture, and “Reves d’etoiles” celebrating classic film and cabaret. Catch dinner while watching this unique Parisian show happening from January 1st through March 31st in the Chams-Elysees/Louvre district.

Tim Burton at the Cinematheque Francaise

Tim Burton lovers won’t want to miss this! Held March 7th through August 5th, this is an interesting look at this beloved filmmaker and director’s work through the years. Over 700 drawings, sculptures, models, film excerpts, and costumes featured!

Disneyland Paris: Magic in Paris!

If you’re seeking family fun while in Paris, spend a day at Disneyland Paris! Only about half an hour outside of Paris by train, visiting this Disney theme park is well worth it. You may be thinking that there is a Disneyland in the US you can already visit, so why would you make this one of your stops while in Paris? Well, there’s actually several different reasons!

First on the list: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. While there is one of these in the US, the version in Disneyland Paris is actually longer and a much more daring ride. Sharing the spotlight in the Frontierland area of the theme park is The Phantom Manor, which includes a western town, unlike its US counterpart The Haunted Mansion. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, located in Adventureland, is also worth checking out among others!

Another neat aspect to visiting Disneyland Paris is many of the resorts are actually immediately outside of the park! For instance Disneyland Hotel – right at the gates of the park! Imagine only a 3 minute walk to the park from your hotel – not only is this convenient but makes it much easier when traveling with children. Not to mention the hotel is absolutely beautiful and offers its very own magical Disney flair!

One day tickets start at only 81 USD for adults and 73 USD for children ages 3 to 11. Children under 3 are free! You can book online at www.disneylandparis.com.

Experience “The Davinci Code” at the Louvre

Its been established that The Louvre is a definite stop on your Parisian vacation. It houses great masterpieces such as The Mona Lisa, The Venus de Milo, and The Odalisque, among many others. But did you know that you can take an hour and a half “thematic trail” following the footsteps taken by the characters in the book and movie “The Davinci Code”? On the tour you will be shown key artifacts from the story and given explanations of how they tied in with Dan Brown’s story, along with some embellishments being cleared up.

Your guided tour begins under the Pyramid, and from there it will wind through the halls and rooms of The Louvre painting the well-known and loved book and movie in a new light for visitors. Along the way you can expect to see:

  • The Hera of Samos
  • The staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Arago Medallion
  • The Mona Lisa
  • The Red Rooms
  • The Inverted Pyramid
  • The Death of the Virgin
  • The Salon Carre, and much more!

Visit the Louvre’s website, www.louvre.fr, before your trip and purchase your tickets and see further details. You can purchase a 2 day pass for only €39 per person. Along with catching one of “The Davinci Code” guided tours during your visit, you can also see other featured exhibitions, see lectures, view films and see live performances. If you plan your trip soon, you may even catch the “New Frontier: American Art Enters the Louvre” exhibition that is displaying from January 14, 2012 until April 16, 2012.

Moulin Rouge: Where Cancan is Queen

The Moulin Rouge was established in 1889 during the height of what was Paris’ most unique periods of history. At the start of the industrial revolution an interesting thing happened in Paris – social boundaries were dropped and fun, exuberance, and frivolity were in abundance. This was a big change from the former uptightness of the classicism period. In the midst of this exciting era, the most famous cabaret the world will ever know opened its doors to anyone who wanted to come.

An extravagant and wild atmosphere that no one had seen before was offered at the Moulin Rouge – including the Cancan, made famous by the Moulin Rouge. The Cancan dancers here were like none the world had ever seen. Each night when the doors opened at 10pm a fleet of young girls entered stage and threw their legs high in the air in a wave of frills and black stockings. Some of the most famous Cancan dancers were Jane Avril and Yvette Guilbert, the latter of the two going on to become a famous fortune teller.

Today, you can still visit the Moulin Rouge in all its glory and catch an exciting burlesque show. You don’t need to wait until 10pm, though. You can make reservations for a meal and a show as early as 1pm. With a history as rich and exciting as the Moulin Rouge’s, and its traditions still being upheld, don’t leave Paris without experiencing it!