The Catacombs of Paris.

Paris, Catacombs, small and great history.


‘’ Marie-France Arnold had a hard job in prospect when she set out to delve into this subject. Researching the facts about how the Catacombs were created in 1786 means contemplating the whole picture of the situation in France at the end of the 18th century, with its history and sociology. It is the case that the decision to establish a municipal ossuary resulted from the period of the enlightenment, its preoccupation with urbanization, science and philosophy.


Nevertheless, the installation itself was a royal decree made by Louis XVI, last of the French monarchs before the Revolution.


The way that it was put into effect reveals that human nature hasn’t changed, there were repeated delays, the putting off of important measures despite accidents that happened during the quarrying process and the dangers represented by the Cemetery of the Innocents – things that today would give rise to the usual complaints about administrative lethargy.


Now, after two centuries, those anonymous bones are still in place, necessitating regular maintenance in situ. Here let us not forget to applaud the efforts of the General Inspectorate of Quarries, responsible for the repair of dilapidated masonry.


Since the year 1800 visits by the public to the site have continued almost without interruption. No doubt this is the modern form of sacred observance, as shown by the fact that affluence is greatest over the All Saints and All Souls Day festivals. Such marked public interest has led to a certain amount of material damage, yet what would become of the Catacombs indeed, if they were to be forgotten and abandoned ? ‘’


Preface of Jean-Pierre Willesme.


Curator of the Carnavalet Museum and Responsible for the Conservation of the Catacombs of Paris.