08 August 2006

Empire of the Dead

An unusual tourist stop, maybe, but for those with more than their share of interest in the macabre the Empire of the Dead in Paris has to top the "places to go" list. Somehow, I missed this tour when in France. The photos on the visitors site are less than ivniting. Yet, I can't help wondering what it must be like to walk through a narrow passage lined with skulls and bones of those who have died from the Black Plague or smallpox epidemics.

In 1418, the city had to find a burial site for 50,000 corpses that accumulated in just one week. They were buried in mass graves around Paris. Three centuries later the walls of surrounding cellars caved in and the bones spilled out. An unused quarry south of the heart of Paris, near the now bustling Left Bank, opened its cool, dark, emptiness to the remains of hundreds of thousands of skeletal remains. For years, the bones were carted after night fall, stacked, and left unmarked in the cavernous belly under Paris.

The fee to tour the underground grave site is about $5 (30+francs). Not heavily guarded, the catacombs are a popular spot for musicians and street performaners to frequent. On the feast of the patron saint of miners--in France this is Saint Barbe--the School of Mines enters the tomb for one "hell" of a party, with permission from authorities. If the Rolla School Mines (UMR), were do such a thing in Missouri, there'd be hell to pay. But in Paris, "C'est la vie!"

Tourists have been known to take away a souvenir or two. No one keeps a tally of the number of bones, though some belong to some of France's noted artists, writers, composers, etc. Some people send the bones back or leave them in another Parisian locale with a note.

If you are of French decent, your ancestors could be "buried" in this plot. Beats the heck out of visiting any cemetery on Gravois. Good luck finding a list of names to check. The Empire's registration desk is skimpy on the details of its clientele.

If the Asian Bird Flu hits St. Louis, I suggest the old mines under The Hill as a suitable repository for the bones of our dearly beloved. Imagine the possibilities for tours in three hundred years.

1 comment:

MP said...

Thanks Deb..bury them by my house! I saw we use Meremac Caverns.