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Dungeons of the City of Light

The French capital is often called the City of Light. The facades of light-colored stone houses, wide avenues, the yellowish waters of the Seine, and now the beautiful night illumination really create the impression that the city is always filled with light. However, there is no less reason to call Paris and the City of Darkness, because the Parisian darkness hides the treasures of the ages, which can compete with those that are generously illuminated by the sun. Under the endless stream of cars and pedestrians of this great city hides another world, the existence of which few realize. Hundreds of kilometers of mysterious galleries, known as the Parisian catacombs, are ancient quarries, from where the medieval inhabitants of the city took materials for its construction. The heritage of antiquity Already in the times of Antiquity, limestone and gypsum were mined on the banks of the Seine in an open way. The Romans brought with them the tradition of stone construction, allowing to provide a higher level of comfort in the home. In addition, the buildings erected of stone, much better resisted the onslaught of time than wooden buildings. The love of the Romans for the stone was reflected even in the Latin name of Paris – Lutetia, which, according to one version, comes from the Latin lucotis, that is, “whiteness”, denoting the color of the stony banks of the Seine. Due to this, the name lutecien has strengthened behind the geological epoch corresponding to the period of limestone formation. Starting from the 12th century, the development of underground resources began. The increased architectural ambitions of the Parisians materialized in dozens of renovated abbeys, cathedrals and churches. The Romanesque style, and then the Gothic who succeeded him, sharply increased the need for building materials. The first underground mining of limestone was under the territory of the modern Luxembourg Garden. Then, around 1200, areas of the current Val-de-Gras Hospital, Gobelin, Saint-Jacques, Vauciard, Saint-Germain-des-Prés streets followed. From the stone taken from there, under the kings Philippe Augustus (1180–1223), Louis Saints (1226–1270) and Philippe the Fair (1285–1314), the Louvre, Saint-Sha-pell and Notre Dame Cathedral were built. From the XV century began a two-tier development of limestone. Quarries that have exhausted their reserves in width have been developed in depth. Thus, under the already existing network of galleries a second floor was created. This was made possible by changing the method of raising the extracted materials to the surface. If earlier, any underground gallery sooner or later went under the open sky, from where the stone was delivered to its destination, now, wells were used to extract stone blocks, and winches were installed at the top. They were set in motion either by a man walking inside the wheel or by horses. Currently, near Paris there are about 300 km of galleries, and most of them are located on the left bank of the Seine. The fact that much more former quarries remained there is not accidental. In the north of the city, mainly gypsum was mined, while on the left, the south, limestone. The need for limestone has always been higher, respectively, at first there was significantly more development on the left bank. Moreover, since the gypsum was easily eroded by water, the empty quarries of the right bank concealed a more visible danger. Therefore, in the process of strengthening the Parisian caves, the gypsum quarries turned out to be almost completely filled with cement.

In the name of the General Inspectorate, the mining of the stone was carried out mainly in those territories which at that time were urban suburbs. However, the expansion of residential urban space, at first in the Renaissance and later under Louis XIV, led to the fact that by the 17th century, the land containing the former quarries turned out to be already within the city limits, and much of the residential districts . The situation was complicated by the fact that over the centuries that have passed since the beginning of the development of the Parisian stone, the exact location of the underground galleries, pulled out in past times chaotically, without any specific plan, was forgotten. The increasing incidence of collapses ultimately led to the fact that at the end of the XVIII century large-scale work was started to strengthen the underground ceilings. In April 1777, King Louis XVI issued a special decree establishing the General Inspectorate of quarries. Certain attempts to strengthen underground galleries were undertaken, of course, before, but then it was a question of building any fortifications only under the newly constructed buildings, but not about the city as a whole. The tasks of the newly created state organization included the drawing up of a detailed plan for the Parisian underground galleries and the widespread implementation of measures to strengthen them. The head of the Inspectorate was appointed royal architect Charles-Axel Guillaume. As if by a twist of fate, the moment of the creation of the Inspectorate coincided with another collapse of underground ceilings on Denfer Street in the 14th arrondissement, which led to human casualties. Therefore, the task facing engineers and architects who carried out work to strengthen the underground galleries was so urgent that these works were not interrupted either in the turbulent and bloody years of the French Revolution, or later during the events of 1870-1871. I must say that the need to control the state of the Parisian dungeons has not lost its relevance to this day, so that the Inspectorate still exists today. At the same time, in order to draw up a detailed plan of the network of underground galleries, it was necessary first of all to establish which streets, churches or other construction and engineering objects are on the surface above each underground gallery. This task was not an easy one, since if street nameplates appeared in Paris in 1728–1729, the numbering of houses in the city did not exist until 1778. That is, in fact, it turned out that tremendous work on both ground and underground numbering was carried out simultaneously. At the intersections of underground galleries hung signs with the name of the street passing from above, and if there were two parallel galleries on the way, running along the same street, the side of the street was shown relative to the sun, that is, the side of either the rising sun or the setting sun. Under the most significant, in religious and social relations, the buildings on the walls of underground galleries beat out the symbol of the French monarchy – the lily flower. After the Revolution, the old numbering system was, however, abolished as monarchical, and almost all lily flowers were destroyed. However, up to now there are still about 150 such royal signs in the Parisian dungeons, apparently because some of them were in inaccessible places, and some were carefully hidden from the eyes of the crowd by royalist-minded clay underlayers. Approximately at the same time, within the framework of the tireless struggle of the revolutionary people with religion, street names, both ground and underground, removed everything that could cause religious associations. Sometimes the streets were simply renamed, and sometimes some of them “elegantly” removed some unnecessary words. For example, the street Saint-Jacques (St. Jacques) became the street Jacques and so on. Starting from 1805, the existing system of dividing the numbering of one side of the street with even numbers and the other with odd numbers began to be introduced. Similarly, all the work carried out was numbered. On each newly erected reinforcing wall there were numbers and letters that might have seemed very mysterious to an uninitiated person. Although in reality only indicated the number of work, the date and initials of the chief engineer. Certain confusion in the perception of this system, of course, was made by the fact that, from 1794 to 1806, dates, of course, were indicated on the revolutionary calendar, which led the calendar from the first year of the revolution. However, in fairness, it should be noted that some revolutionary innovations successfully withstood the test of time. The metric system introduced during the French Revolution took root not only in France, but also in most countries of the world. Although at one time the transfer of all underground and surface measurements from the old system to the new one required a lot of effort and time. And he was made with such care that it sometimes came to such curiosities as, for example, specifying one thousandth of a millimeter in measuring the depth of a well.

Inhabitant of death Almost at the same time that the famous Inspection was created, the Parisian quarries, having received another new assignment, acquired a new name. It was connected with another kingdom of darkness, even more distant than the endless Parisian dungeons – the kingdom of death. In contrast to the pagan beliefs of the ancient Romans, who arranged the necropolis in the desert territories outside the inhabited cities, the Christian tradition required the burial of the departed on the sacred land adjacent to the church. Thus, Christian cemeteries were everywhere located in the center of settlements. In the Middle Ages, a high mortality rate was the reason that all the cemeteries that were within the precincts of Paris were utterly overcrowded. This situation is extremely seriously aggravated the plague epidemic, which is so rich in the history of France. For example, at the cemetery of the Innocents, which functioned from the 11th century and was only a few hundred meters from the Louvre, the surface level inside the cemetery fence was 6 meters (!) Higher than the level of the sidewalks of all adjacent streets. There were, of course, individual burials, but mostly common, when up to 1,500 people could be buried in the same grave. Therefore, by the end of the 18th century, the situation had become so explosive – both from the sanitary and the criminal (the cemeteries attracted not the most respectable public) points of view, that there was a need to take the most urgent measures. In 1763, the Parliament of Paris issued a decree banning the burial of the dead inside the city’s fortifications. But finally this decision began to be realized only in 1780, when the wall separating the cemetery of the Innocents from the houses located on a nearby street, rue de la Linger, could not withstand the pressure from inside, collapsed, filling the basements of the houses with the remains of the dead and a monstrous amount of dirt and sewage It turned out that the famous Russian proverb about a peasant who, until the thunder clap, does not cross himself, is equally applicable to kings, at least French ones. In addition to all this, in the center of Paris there was a catastrophic lack of at least some free space, including for the construction of a market, which reported a very vital economic interest in closing and transferring cemeteries. And since this process coincided in time with the commencement of large works in the Paris quarries, it was decided to use the extensive underground spaces to rebuild the remains of the departed, which had accumulated over the long years of the cemetery. In 1785, the Council of State decided to transfer the cemetery of the Innocents to the former quarries of Tomb Issoir, located outside the city limits. The underground “afterlife mansions” had to be equipped appropriately – they should be decorated with Christian symbols and time-appropriate phrases reminding potential visitors of the perplexity and vanity of life and the greatness and inevitability of death. From the same time, the name of the “catacomb” (from the Greek. Cata – “under” and combe – “grave”) entrenched behind the quarries, in association with the Roman catacombs, which served as burial grounds, and sometimes the prayers of the first Christians. However, this similarity of names sometimes confuses visitors who believe that the Parisian catacombs, like the catacombs of the Eternal City, served as the abode of the early Christians, which is not true. Well, then the leadership of the operation to transfer the bones was assigned to all the same Guillaume, head of the Inspectorate. From the very beginning, he planned to make underground cemeteries open to visitors. According to his plan, all available bones were to be folded in neat shafts, which were to be crowned with rows of skulls. However, the vague revolutionary epoch that soon came along did not ignore the underground kingdom with its “attention”. Reburial became chaotic, the remains are often simply dumped into the nearest mines or wells that were once used to extract the stone to the surface. Also in the catacombs began to lay down the bodies of the new dead and executed, which significantly complicated the underground sanitary situation. After all, it was originally intended to re-bury only ancient remains, that is, in fact, only dry bones. At the beginning of the XIX century, under the leadership of Erikar de Türi, the then head of the Inspectorate, work was carried out in the catacombs, during which an underground necropolis was created, intended for visiting the general public. It is De Türi who owns the “authorship” in the choice of various sayings inscribed on the walls of the catacombs, including meeting visitors on the threshold: “Stop! Here is the kingdom of death! ”, Which belonged to the abbot Jacques Delles.

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