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Paris Catacombes, March 2014

Gambit

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My first, and to date, only explore underground is a trip to the Catacombs under Paris.

For those that aren't aware, a little history...

The rock beneath Paris is largely limestone, and since the 11th Century, mining of this limestone has taken place - to build the city. In many ways, Paris is built on a latticework of tunnels and caves. Collapses of the tunnels created were becoming more and more frequent, so in 1777 the Inspection des Carrières was created. Their role, to inspect the quarries, map them, and where necessary reinforce.

By 1786, with progress being made, another problem for the City needed solving. The graveyards were becoming overcrowded, and there were concerns, the Parisians were convinced that their drinking water was being contaminated by the decaying bodies. The solution - to move the dead to the underground caverns beneath the City. So the task of moving 6 million corpses began, and the Catacombs were created....

I had heard from a friend that a trip was being organised, so I got myself on the list and started to make plans. The thing with this sort of trip is that although it lasts a couple of days - or thereabouts, your survival depends solely on whatever you take with you. Well unless you are a seasoned visitor and know more about how and where to exit the Catacombs without issues.

The plan was to enter the Catacombs on Friday afternoon and then come up on Monday, late afternoon. Going on the basis of 2 litres of water a day, and having not wanting to go short, I ended up taking 6 litres. By the time I packed in enough food, the water, sleeping bag, bivvi bag, inflatable mattress, spare clothes, mini stove, pans, a couple of torches, spare batteries, a couple of copies of a map - there was not much room left in the 60 litre rucksack, and it was bloody heavy.

We had arranged to meet some of the group in a car park near the main access point. The "rooms" and some areas are named, and the tunnels also have names - well some do. Our first port of call was "La Plage". Getting there involved something called the Sand Crawl. It was the first time I had to crawl for years - a long forgotten skill I have to say. Made all the more "interesting" as I had left my climbing helmet and head torch at home. My only light was the from the people in front and the P7 I held as I crawled along. Luckily it wasn't so low that I had to take my rucksack off, but it was low enough. Some people were managing an odd sort of low bent over walk, but for some, including me, it was easier progress on all fours.

Before long La Plage opened up. It was pretty cool I have to say. There was a lot of street art, and the reason it was called La Plage - well I can only guess the sandy floor and the large wave mural... I had a wander about.

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Before too long, some French lads turned up. They seemed friendly enough, quite chatty. However... We had already discussed that we weren't going to tell anyone we met where we planned to go. The Parisian youth tend to have parties in the Catacombs and the odd day trip. The people we met weren't prepared for a multi day visit, but then again they didn't have to be. With the network under their feet, multiple visits were pretty straightforward, so no drama coming down for a few hours every other weekend or so.

After a little while they left. About 5 minutes after they had, a strange purple haze started to fill the room. We had no idea what this smoke was, probably a harmless enough smoke bomb, but frankly none of us wanted to hang around and find out if it was or not. Deep beneath Paris, no mobile phone signal, no means to call for help, not easily accessible - even if people knew where you were - nope, it wasn't a good plan to stay...

So, like the stork - we flew that place

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We decided to head towards "Lanterns Room". This was a bit of a trek but a safe place to stay the night. Safe as in it was a blind tunnel, so we wouldn't have to worry about people walking by or wanting to get through.

I don't know if you have ever been underground for a period of time, but the strange thing is that all sense of time is completely lost. There is no day or night, hours just seem to blur.

In the "morning" the mini group I had travelled down with decided that we would go our own way, explore the network as we wanted. We knew where we were, where the exit was and with around 4 maps between us, we were sorted.

Oh, another thing I hadn't counted on - wearing waders. Don't get me wrong, they are essential. There are parts of the Catacombs which are partially flooded, not massively deeply flooded, but enough to breach over normal wellingtons. Walking around in wet wellingtons is not good fun. But wearing waders all day long - that really isn't pleasant. There is a heat build up, which is great all the time you are dressed, but when you have to put on wet socks, trousers and waders the next morning - man that is gross.

As we made our way through the tunnels, along the route there were a number of ladders leading up to manholes. The issue is, one has no idea if these are sealed or not, so it may not be a case of using one of these as an emergency exit... The pin prick of light in this image comes from the manhole cover - so it must have been daytime :)

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The weird thing is, the speed at which light just falls away. It is very eerie to say the least and very easy to get lost as a result. I wouldn't want to be down here on my own that is for sure.

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At one point, we - there were 5 in my little group - were talking about the poor girl who died in the Odessa catacombs. Short story - a 19 year old girl got separated from a New Years Eve party and couldn't find the group or the exit. We agreed to turn our torches off for a few seconds to see what it would be like. I know - pitch black. But honestly it was worse than that. We were all standing very close to one another, and as I am sure you all know - when one is standing close to someone, you can always feel their presence, even if you close your eyes - think crowded underground train - one doesn't ever feel alone. The thing is, here, with no light - I felt no one's presence. Nothing. I knew that everyone was still there - there was no sound - so no movement - but the blanket of silence and darkness was smothering, absolutely horrific. That poor girl, to be that alone, no ability to find anyone, no one answering your screams, not knowing where the walls of the tunnel were, stumbling in the dark, knowing that death was beckoning - just horrific.

I was very relieved to see that our little group was intact after that little interlude.

The Mineralogical Office

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Of course, no trip to the Catacombs would be complete without bones...

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and skulls too

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Parts of the tunnels were used as a shelter, and one of these was where we decided to spend the night. We ate in the Flag Room

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After a second night, we decided that actually a third night was going to be an adventure too far... We were fatigued and were ready to make our way out...

More bones...

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Part of the network was used by the Germans in WW2 as bunker

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A word of warning - don't get lost, or you would end up looking....

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Our final location to visit was the Castle Room - couldn't resist using the spare candles and making the place a little more interesting

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Apero's Room - well the entrance at least

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Although this wasn't in La Plage - it is similar to the one there, although can't remember exactly where this is, but it was up by the Bunker and Apero's Room I think...

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And with that, thank you for viewing - as ever, more images on my Flickr :)

 
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skeleton key

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Thats another great write up and insight to your time below and pics are cool.

Very cool post Andy (y)

:comp

 

Lenston

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Amazing place the Catas, some cracking pics there of places you dont normally see down there (y)

 

The_Raw

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Epic! Love the castle room especially. (y)

 

hamtagger

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Nicely reported there mate as always. Interesting read and some pics and areas i haven't seen before (y)

 

Urbexbandoned

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That was really good to read almost felt like I was there for a bit, love the castle room. It's quite magnificent down there to say the least. Great report. (y)

 

MrT

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Need to get my arse here. Wish people would stop doing great reports from here : )

 
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