Friday, April 24, 2015

U = Underground Paris and Urban Explorers, French Faves - A to Z Challenge

Deep beneath the city, in caverns and connecting tunnels, you may see the intrepid Cataphiles, urban underground explorers of a different Paris, one many of us will never see.



A partially flooded section of rue de la Voie Verte, CC* by Thomas Baselius in Jan 2006



U = Underground and Urban Explorers

Cataphiles tour the former 'mines of Paris', albeit illegally. These underground tunnels connect a network of unused caverns or former mines.  The Catacombs of Paris is only one subset of the whole system, which spans 170 miles (280 kilometers) in length.

Entrance to the Catacombs is restricted. The tunnel system is complex, and it's easy to get lost. Some tunnels have plaques indicating the name of the street above, but some do not. Some passages are low, narrow and at times, partially flooded. Aging telephone wires, pipes, and other detritus can make the trek dangerous. Cave-ins do happen, but they are rare. 

Paris monitors some of the caverns and the E.R.I.C. special police patrol the catacombs. A good guide is indispensible and even they occasionally refer to a map. Due to the possible dangers, accessing the catacombs without official escort has been illegal since November 1955. Those caught are fined 60 Euros, or $77. 

How do they get into these off limits mines? 
Secret entrances exist throughout Paris, and sometimes it is possible to enter the catacombs via the sewers, the metro and certain manholes. Some unofficial visitors hold keys to certain official entrances. On rare occasions, people use these access points for meetings with others, to hold exclusive parties or simply to explore.

The term Catacombs refers to a small part of the underground network where the remains of several million Parisians were transferred in the 1780s from the overflowing city cemeteries. That ossuary is open to the public and is visited by many tourists.

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Refer to DG's previous post:
Underground Crypt under Notre Dame and the Catacombs


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Would you go exploring underground in Paris, with a guide? Have you see the Catacombs of Paris, which is open to the public? Does the idea of being underground bother you?

Please leave a comment to let me know you stopped by, and if you are part of the A to Z Challenge. I'll be sure to check your blog, and reciprocate. If you're not in the challenge, thanks for stopping by to visit! I try to reply to all comments.

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The A to Z Blog Challenge is the brainchild of Lee, at Tossing It Out.  Please visit the A to Z blog site to find out more information and the participant list.  There are also Twitter and Facebook presences if you want to check those!




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References:

View of Rue de la Voie Verte, Underground, (today called rue du Père Corentin) at a partially flooded section
 Picture taken by Thomas Baselius in January 2006
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cataphile Cataphile

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/world/europe/for-paris-cataphiles-the-secret-is-out-on-their-cherished-underground.html?_r=0 NY Times article on cataphiles

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/02/paris-underground/shea-text Nat'l Geographic article on Paris Underground

 Paris Underground
http://www.npr.org/2011/01/30/133308592/parisunderground

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22 comments:

  1. The first thing I thought of was, 'I bet it smells so bad down there'. I did the Underground Tour in Seattle which was fascinating, but not for anyone who is tall or has major claustrophobia issues. Some of the passages were a little too much for me and I'm short. I have claustrophobia in crowds but this tour wasn't too bad, esp. since it's done in 3 sections so you are up on the street twice between them to get air.

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    1. I've heard it does smell damp and musty and it is below ground - all factors to consider. Hubs will not go near something like that, and I dislike being deep underground and in close places, so we didn't experience the Catacombs. I could handle the aercheological crypt (Roman ruins) below Notre Dame but it's not that far down below the street. And you don't need to walk so far in darkness (as the cataphiles do at times). I didn't know Seattle had an underground tour. . .

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  2. I didn't know there was an underground Paris. How neat! It would be a cool and slightly eerie experience walking through those mines.

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    1. I think so too, Chrys, but there have always been spelunkers (cave explorers) who don't mind it. The National Geographic Mag had an excellent article which I included a link to below the post, that had photos of the art work/graffiti and customizing some people have done. It's interesting.

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  3. Like Chrys, I had no idea there was an underground Paris. I'm trying to imagine why it was created and what it was used for way back when. I think it'd make an interesting story!

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    1. During the occupation of Paris, many of the resistance hid out in the underground. The initial reason for mining under Paris was the need for building products, and other minerals lying close to the surface. It did cause a few collapses when buildings were established over some of the mined areas which needed shoring and stabilization beneath ground..
      The main product mined was gypsum for 'plaster of Paris' but there is more info at this link if you want to check it-
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mines_of_Paris
      It would make for an interesting story and many have written articles. Fiction writers have included the underground of Paris in many of their stories.

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  4. I have visited the catacombs. In fact, one of the books in my Bubba and Squirt series (Art Thieves in Paris) includes the catacombs. I thought they were kind of creepy.

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    1. Good for you, Sherry. And I love that you have the Catacombs in one of your stories. Some of us call it creepy and some would call it interesting and cool.

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  5. Like JoJo, the first thought I had was -- I bet it is hot and smelly down there. I believe there was a recent horror movie about those tunnels. Brrrr.

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    1. Some of the cataphiles have filmed Youtube segments, but viewing them doesn't make me want to visit. . .a friend who did visit said it was damp and smelled like old earth (that seems appropriate) The thing I don't like to think about Roland, was all that city and the buildings sitting on top of that underground space and the fact that there have been collapses.

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  6. Hi DG - interesting to see the photos and to understand what possible in exploring underground Paris .. I certainly wouldn't like to do it .. but I'd be happy to see the Catacombes and I imagine would be very interesting to see for itself as well as the history ...

    I can see your worry re the collapses .. but anywhere can sink, or be blown away .. just about .. and who knows what's going on under our feet ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. I think I'll stick with the aerial views, HIlary. Even reading about the London Underground in Neverwhere by Neil Gaimon, made me sure I wouldn't like going to deep under anywhere. It's a gut feeling and I pay attention to those. . .

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  7. These underground passages always intrigue me. Edinburgh has its underground catacombs too, and London. Kind of creepy yet it excites my writer brain to know about places like this.

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    1. I think a lot of older cities do, if they don't have a high water table, but I'll stick with research. If you go, just tell me about it, ok?

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  8. I think that would be awesome to explore. I wouldn't want to get lost though.

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    1. I wouldn't want to get lost either, and I wouldn't relish going down via the sewer or manholes either, even if the teenage mutant ninja turtles did. . .for anywhere other than the Catacombs, you'd have to get a guide, a Cataphile to show you the way.

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  9. Wow! I've never seen the catacombs of Paris or any other catacombs. It sounds fascinating. The closest thing I can come to that is visiting Carlsbad Caverns here in the US. It's a giant cave system underground and goes down about eight stories with stalagmites and stalagtites all over the place. It''s very cold down there.

    Visiting you from the A to Z

    Sunni
    http://sunni-survivinglife.blogspot.com/

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    1. I've heard a lot about the Carlsbad Caverns, and I understand they are quite roomy caves there. Not like some areas below Paris. The Caverns were made for tourists, the Catacombs proper were, too, after people showed interest, but the mines under Paris were not intended for public use. I m ight be able to handle the caverns if I ever get in that area. Thanks for visiting, and I'll drop by your blog soon.

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  10. Interesting. I am from Calcutta, India. My Dad always told me there was a tunnel underneath the River Ganges (which is pretty wide and deep) which was built by the British (I think) and used by the electric company where he worked. The general public is not allowed access. It always intrigued me.

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    1. Now that's interesting, Ipsita, I know they used to lay cable for telecommunications via tunnels and piping, so it would make a lot of sense. Thanks for mentioning that detail and for visiting. I'll be by your blog too.

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  11. You better believe I'm uncomfortable being underground. I'm somewhat claustrophobic and the idea of being buried beneath something gives me the shivers. I love the water and finally learned to snorkel, but could not even consider scuba, because I couldn't tolerate the idea of being so deep under all of that water.

    Nevertheless, this was fascinating. I had no idea that this was an 'off limits' area of Paris, or that someone who want to hold an elicit party underground, but then obviously, that would not be my cup of tea.

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    1. I also have that fear of being underground, and some of the worst horror stories to me were of people being buried alive. . .not my cup of tea either.

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