France, especially Paris, has always had a mystique about it.  There is something about France that conjures images of picturesque countrysides, great wine, wonderful food.  Even death, when done in french style, has that same feeling.

The Paris Catacombs

The catacombs were begun in Roman times.  They were a quarry for limestone for building.  After the fall of the Roman empire, they fell into disuse.  In the 11th century the Catacombs were reopened to provide more limestone, to continue the building of Paris.  When the digging ceased, they had created 300 kilometers of tunnels under the city (that's 186 miles, for the metrically challenged).  In the late 1700's building space inside the city was at a premium, and it was decided that all the graveyards inside the city should be used for building.  Before they could be used as such, the remains in the graveyards had to be transferred to a safe location.  The Catacombs were a perfect place.   Today, the remains of between 5 and 7 million individuals lie in the tunnels under Paris.

To get there, you have to descend 180 steps and walk through narrow tunnels for about a kilometer.  Then you reach the ossuaries...

Throughout the ossuary, you see this scene.  Skulls and femurs, neatly and creatively stacked, make up the front wall.  Behind them, the rest of the bones are in a jumbled pile.  In some places the space between the front row and catacomb wall is only a few feet.  In this particular location, it is more than 40 feet to the far wall.  This was a particularly large graveyard.

Sheila and myself, with a few thousand friends.
(Sorry we don't have more pictures of this really cool place, but you were not supposed to take pictures...)


Cimetere du Pere La Chaise

Located outside of the city center of Paris, this graveyard is very large and very cool.  However, there is only one reason that 95% of all Americans travel to see this graveyard.  Here it is:

The most visited grave in the cemetery
(and the only grave that has a guard).

There are other famous people buried here...
This is the grave of Fredrich Chopin.
Obviously, he is still popular.

Other graves appear to have been neglected for a century or more.



There are many delightfully creepy sculptures presiding over graves all over the cemetery.  Most look mournful, like those above.  Others are just sorta creepy.

Each corner of the stone casket is being supported by a bat-winged skull.  The image below the casket shows the living on the right being summoned by the dead on the left.  Death flies overhead, blowing a trumpet.


A long time ago, somebody thought it might be a nice idea to plant a sapling on this child's grave...