Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paris - where the dead people are....

Thought this time I'd focus on three different things you can do if you want to see dead people in Paris. I'm not saying that the methods are limited to three - I can provide other suggestions if necessary, that's for sure.

Ranked according to levels of squeamishness

Method #1: Basilica of Saint-Denis (AKA "the Royal Necropolis")
The majority of the French monarchs from the 10th century on are buried at Saint-Denis, so there is no shortage of dead people to visit. It's great for the squeamish because the dead have been transformed into pleasant effigies - well, except for the dried heart of Louis XVII, which is presented in a nice clear glass jar. And, you have the bonus of being able to admire the variety of loyal dogs placed at the feet of the royal women (in contrast to the lions at the feet of the men), and some great 16th C graphiti (enlarge the photo of the bare breasted beauty and you'll see what I mean).

All this, housed in the first major gothic building. You can't lose.

Method #2: Cemeteries are nice...
Paris has some of the most renowned cemeteries in Europe. We didn't get to the most famous, but we did wander through the Montmartre Cemetery, which was impressive enough. It ranks a bit higher on the creepy scale than Saint-Denis because of the occasional disturbed grave, and the fact that some of the monuments seemed to include items that indicate some sort of habitation of the not-so-dead kind (why else would you need a pot? or a chair?). Added bonus: standoffish Parisian cemetery cats.

Method #3: The Paris Catacombs
Let's face it, who doesn't love a good ossuary?

This ranks pretty high on the creepy scale. To cut a long story short, in the late 18th C the inhabitants of the "city" cemeteries in Paris were dug up and their remains relocated to abandoned underground quarries (apparently the cemeteries were overwhelmed and the neighbouring living inhabitants were getting sick as a result...which I guess turns into a bit of a vicious cycle ...). So, you walk down about 130 steps (a typical Parisian spiral staircase) into the bowels of the city only to find tunnel upon narrow damp tunnel lined with neatly stacked ex-Parisians. Thousands of them. (as an aside - I have to say the first picture here - with the skulls on top - is one of my favorite photos EVER, because it looks so very baroque and painterly. Total fluke). And once you are down there, you are down there - there is no quick easy escape. If you get claustrophobic, stick to the cemeteries.

I might add that I did not touch any of the skulls, though it was kind of tempting. Not sure the same can be said of my companions.

So - that's the end of the tour through dead Paris. Something more lively next time perhaps.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

the skull photo is fantastic!