Saturday, June 25, 2022

The city’s underground labyrinth where urban explorers party with millions of skeletons

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The 300 km of countless forgotten Roman-era tunnels and caves are essentially former quarries from which much of the stone used to build the city was dug

While Paris’ spooky underground bone cellar, Les Catacombes, is a popular tourist destination, many people don’t realize that the French capital has a network of secret tunnels that artists and squatters have since confiscated.

The myriad of forgotten Roman-era tunnels and caves are essentially former quarries from which much of the stone used to build the city was dug.

But now the network has become an illegal playground for thrill-seeking Parisians and in-the-know tourists.

The 300km of underground tunnels are also the stuff of spooky tales, with the endless labyrinth of caves housing the remains of up to six million Parisians.

This happened in the 17th century when the city was in the midst of a crisis dealing with overcrowded cemeteries.

Some parts of the underground network are still open to visitors on guided tours, although large parts of the catacombs have been sealed off since 1955.

But that hasn’t stopped people from breaking in.

A buried WWII bunker with an armored door leading directly to the quarries is one way in, but there are many other entrances that those in the know keep secret to preserve their underground world.

Humidity is very high – the walls and ceilings are dripping with water and you can walk through ankle-deep mud puddles in places, the Guardian reported after a trip under the French capital.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the cataphiles from creating underground galleries – a term given to those urban explorers who travel the space illegally.

Another attractive aspect, according to those who like living in the tunnels, is the equality they bring.

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“You can’t be judged by your looks because we’re all dirty and we’re wearing boots,” a 45-year-old pastel artist, who gave her name only as Misti, told the New York Times.

“So the banker and the punk party together.”

“We’re here for the same passion and sharing the same things, no matter what we’re upstairs,” said Gaspard Duval, a cataphile in his 40s who discovered the network six years ago and comes down several times a week, mostly to take photos.

“No one cares about your social class.”

Today, trespassers risk a fine of 60 euros if they come across the police units that sometimes patrol underground.

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