Friday, December 6, 2013

Paris as Necropolis

My recent trip to Paris was filled with amazing sights and events. To document the trip I will be posting several parts. Part 1 focuses on the two most macabre of the locations we visited.

The Catacombs of Paris-
The first place we visited was the Catacombes This is a vast network of underground tunnels (originally created because of the mining for limestone to acquire building materials for Paris' structures) is now home to an ossuary of almost mindboggeling dimension. An estimated 6 million people have found their final resting place in these tunnels but not by their own will. The burial of all these people at the Catacombes is due to the structural failure of Paris' earlier above ground cemeteries. It seems that Paris had an ongoing problem with burying their dead within the city limits in a few large church grounds until their were centuries of Parisian dead stacked high on top of one another. Once this practice actually failed they needed a place to move all the dead. A perfect use for the largely uncharted mining tunnels was the answer.
 The structure itself is very impressive with added support to prevent collapse. What is strange to realize as you walk this underground museum is that you are walking directly under the streets of Paris.
 The remains of around 6 million people are neatly stacked and mortared together in fairly predictable arrangement. Some artistic license was taken however. Some skulls face outward some inward, some skulls are arranged in different patterns and some are more polished as if touched more over the centuries.
It seems that the leg bones are the real structural necessity for these stacks because their they are stacked parallel to the skull's inward and outward gaze.

It is hard to convey the quantities with pictures but this gives you an idea. Flanking wall after wall winding through the Catacombes.

On second thought I will give the ghoulish sites a rest and move on to the next museum in chronological order. We next visited the Musee des Arts Forains at the Bercy Pavillions.
This museum is basically a museum of "fairground arts" and is privately owned. To see the museum you must arrange a tour or latch on to an already scheduled tour ( which is what we did ).
The tour is conducted by an august but energetic gentleman and magician who does the tour in French ( it is a shame that we could understand very little but the sights are worth the tour by far).
 The exterior of the Musee des Arts Forains located on the Ave. Des Terroirs De France is populated by strange plaster busts of clowns and politicians. It is very entertaining to just walk along and identify the characters, some of whom seem fantastical and some like true portraits.
I particularly liked the disapproving clown.

Entry into the museum comes through large iron gates into a space flanked by two buildings of the pavillions and leading to a courtyard. It was not until the end of the tour that I photographed the courtyard so I will also end the visual tour with that. However, it was in the courtyard that we began our tour, with our guide speaking a mile a minute in French about what I presumed was the history of the Bercy Pavillions and the association with Fairground Arts. At this delicate moment in the tour I took no pictures out of respect and shame for my lack of language skills. We then moved indoors to the first leg of our tour.
Many impressive displays of fair ground sculptures are at hand here, from mythological figures to equines.. you name it.

There was also a great demonstration of self playing musical instruments ( I will post small videos separately between this post and the next) of which I am particularly fond of.
In fact there was an entire room dedicated to self playing instruments which was played in total as an environment. Other highlights were the carousels ( one standard and one older one where the seated people needed to bicycle themselves around it on tracks), The tour guides magic tricks which showed uncanny skills of slight of hand and the "brass top tables". Dark and mysterious the whole way round! Here is one video of the "musical instrument room" I can't resist!

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