Into the catacombs & the tale of Philibert Aspairt

November 2, 2015

The Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur and the Louvre are all wonderful places that tourists can visit in Paris. But the city is also well-known for its catacombs: the official entrance in Denfert-Rochereau is always full of people waiting in line, sometimes for hours.

 

Once you have paid for your ticket (about 10 EUR), you discover a part of this underground network full of nicely stacked skulls. 

 

But there is another side you can explore: the vast network of catacombs that spread under the city, unattended and closed to the public...

 

A bit of hisotry...

 

Before it became an ossuary, the network was a gigantic stone mine. People were escataving under their own houses to find cheap stones and, after many years, the Left Bank underground began to look like Swiss cheese.

 

At the end of the 18th century, after the collapse of some houses, King Louis XVI decided to create the 'Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC)': this commission was in charge of consolidating the underground.

 

At the same time, 'Les Innocents' cemetery was completely full and the bad conditions favorised the spread of diseases. One day, the basement wall of a house situated next to the cemetery broke down under the pressure of thousands of dead bodies contained in the common grave.

 

The decision was then taken to move all the bodies into the new consolidate underground network of Paris.

 

 

 

The legend

 

According to the legend, in 1793, Philibert Aspairt, doorkeeper of the 'Val de Grâce', entered the catacombs.

We don't really know what he was looking for, maybe some alcohol hidden by the monks: 'la chartreuse'.

But, unluckily for him, he got lost...

... or he fell on to the ground and destroyed his oil lamp.

As this labyrinth is on an average depth of 15 meters below the surface, there is no light AT ALL. Can you try to imagine what he saw after he ran out of light... true darkness for hours, maybe days! What was he thinking about during all this time? Maybe he was waiting for help...

What we know for sure, is that his body was discovered 11 years after, by IGC workers. The poor guy was identified thanks to the keys of the Val de Grâce hanging from his belt.

 

 

Today

 

His tomb still exists about 15 meters under the Boulevard Saint Michel, apparently at the same place where his body was found. 

"IN THE MEMORY OF PHILIBERT ASPAIRT, LOST IN THIS EXCAVATION ON THE 3RD OF NOVEMBER, 1793,

 FOUND ELEVEN YEARS LATER AND BURIED AT THE SAME PLACE ON THE 30TH OF APRIL 1804"

We still don't really know what happened to him, but every time they pass by his tomb, people use to light a candle to honor the famest catacombs explorer.

 

For more infos in french, you can go here.

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