Saturday, March 06, 2010

Paris...Day 3 Catacombs and Palais de la decouvert.

Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort

Hmm...even with my meager French I had a good idea what I was getting into when I saw this above the door :) The catacombs were recommended to me by a friend as a great place for kids (What can I say--she's from Paisley!!).  And actually she was right.  When we arrived it was a little like walking into Doctor Who's Tardis.  You go through a simple black door into this small non-descript little building that could double as a public toilet.  Then you descend down and down and down, until you are beneath the Metro and start walking along several hundred meters of stone tunnels.  To be honest after a while you begin to feel a sense of anticlimax and then you reach a doorway with “Stop! This is the empire of death." painted above it and you realize, you have only just arrived...

Inside these old stone quarries lie the bones of six million people.  It seems that in the 18th century, Paris ran out of space to the extent there was nowhere left to bury the dead.  Knowing there were vast chasms below the city, it was decided to exhume the bodies and empty the cemeteries.  The bodies were carted across the city in black draped carts that were led by chanting preists. This went on for years. Ugh.  Imagine opening all those coffins and undressing the bodies before directing the bones to their designated resting place in the catacombs.  The bones were placed together according to which cemetry they came from.  I wonder if people visit their ancestors here?

There are endless bays, six foot high, six-to-ten feet wide and some fifteen- to twenty-feet deep.  The bones are stacked neatly with intricate patterns of skulls on the front of each section.  I thought the children would be a little unnerved but they weren't phased at all.  Perhaps too many skull and crossbone moments from  'Pirates'?  They weren't disrespectful but totally took it in their stride. 

After that we headed to the Palais de la Decouverte a science museum designed for kids and lots of fun (except it is full of kids). I didn't really take any photos but the building itself was gorgeous.

Then, because we weren't too far away, we walked to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top of that, because we hadn't hiked enough around Paris :) At the base is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame, a very moving tribute...
 It is only 284 steps to the top!!
But the view....
is definitely worth it :)

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