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Report - 4 Days in The Grand Réseau Sud - Les Catacombes de Paris - October 2016

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by b3n, Oct 5, 2016.

  1. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    It took 6 months for the plan to come together - Talking to contacts on the internet to get the maps and discover access details, rearranging diaries, booking travel and ordering equipment but the Paris Catacombs are, for me at least, the holy grail of European exploration.

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    A rumored 300 km of subterranean galleries and rooms - some partly submerged - span across the south of Paris. Access is through manhole covers, hidden cellars or dug out sections of abandoned railway tunnels. Spread by word of mouth among the Cataphiles these locations are a tightly kept secret. Once discovered by the cata police the entrances are swiftly sealed.

    Originally the Catacombes were a series of quarries, or Carrieries, dug into the limestone to provide the stone used in the construction of the city. As the city grew there were many collapses and in 1777 an inspectorate was formed to strengthen and consolidate the quarries. Long 'inspection galleries' were dug connecting the separate areas.

    As Paris expanded further the room in the graveyards began to run out and in the late 18th century bodies from the graveyards, around 6-7 million of them, were moved into the quarries.

    Since this time parts of the Catacombes have had many different uses - mushroom farms, brewery's, German bunkers, french resistance bunkers - in 1955 access to the galleries became illegal and is punishable by a fine.

    Our journey into Paris was a long one, two ferries a drive and a coach journey. Walking through the city with our waders on and helmets strapped to our bags got some funny looks and a few interested people stopped to ask - "Êtes-vous cataphiles?"

    As we got closer the excitement grew. The access was in the centre of a building site and as we approached we were watched by three girls from a balcony. Two English guys with massive backpacks and caving gear jumping over a fence and down a hole must have made quite a sight!

    That evening we made our way towards the centre of the catas. There was a big party this weekend and as we walked we met so many groups of french kids. They had let off smoke bombs to keep the police away so navigating the maze of tight sand crawls was very hard.

    We must have seen 50 people that first night, explaining we were English and here to explore for 4 days got a few odd looks - we were told we looked french which in the Catacombes I take is a compliment!

    After a few hours spent running around drinking and chatting with different groups we headed to Salle Human Bomb at about 1am to camp.

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    We slept well, some of the Cataphiles from the night before came and partied in the room next to us for a while but didn't stay long and waking up around 9 we felt well refreshed and ready to go. Our first proper day of exploring!

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    Coffee was brewed, kit was packed, maps consulted and we were off! First stop was the Salle de Dragon and Le Depot.

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    We'd been there 5 minutes and had just got the cameras out when we heard footsteps approaching. Everyone had been so friendly last night we straight away shouted 'Salut!'

    As the footsteps entered the room our smiles dropped.. Police!

    To be honest they were incredibly safe.. After a few minutes of explaining that our french was poor and what we were doing the tension dropped away. They checked our passports and went through our bags. I think they were impressed at how prepared we were and my bag of french food, cassoulet, saucisson and french cheese seemed a good ice breaker - they had the same with them for lunch. Somehow we avoided the 100e fine and were told to leave the way we came immediately.

    So we left.
     
    #1 b3n, Oct 5, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2016

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  2. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    Nahhhhhhhh, we headed north, deeper into the catas and away from them ;)

    Next stop was the Librairie, a small off shute with a collection of books and magazines swapped by Cataphiles.

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    After this we headed to the Cabinet de Mineralogy, this was a really nice square room with a small stone staircase built in the centre. The stairs were used to display samples of the different stones dug from the quarries.

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    We decided to get as far from the police as possible and headed far north to Salle Z. It was a long and tiring walk, much of it a crawl and when we got there we couldn't find the entrance.

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    We stopped for a dissapointed lunch of baguette, saucisson and stinky cheese. It was when we began to backtrack that we found the entrance crawl into a spiral staircase.

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    Salle Z was HUGE originally built as the foundations for a church it cost so much the church was never built.

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    After Salle Z we headed back, stopping at Chapel INRI for a break before continuing towards the German bunker.

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    The area we were walking in was very close to the metro tunnels and we could constantly hear and feel the trains passing.

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    There were some really tight crawls in this section and by the time we arrived we were really tired. We found a room called Anschluss which had hammock points and looked like a good place to sleep so stuck around in this area. We explored the Fontaine Des Chartreux (capuchin monks fountain) and headed to the pharmacy shelter and German bunker. The bunker was incredible with the huge steel doors, old electrics and stairway up towards the surface. We bumped into a french guy who spoke no English and was playing the weirdest bagpipe based punk music I have ever heard.

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    We backtracked to Anschluss and set up camp. There was a huge party happening in the south but we were just too tired to make it. Cassoulet went down well and we got an early night, disturbed a few times by visitors but no one stayed for long.

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  3. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    In the morning we decided to head west, deep into the Catacombes in search of bones.

    Our first stop was The Rats Bar. The Rats were a group of Cataphiles in the 80's and the artwork in this room was really good.

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    Another long wet walk led us to the Carrefour des Morts.

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    Here the catas are split onto several levels and the surroundings are much more like the mines I am used to in England, rough hewn walls and sketchy ceilings.

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    We found a really nice little room - the Salle du Chandelier where we stopped for lunch and then headed deeper into the catas.

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    As we continued the silence seemed to multiply and bones started to appear.. So many hundreds of human bones stacked under our feet, the hollow sound as you take foot across them is surreal and an experience I will never forget.

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    We spent a while exploring in this area before heading towards the Salle des Fetes. A large room with a stage, seating and bar. This room was apparently cleared and built by a cave diver from Paris and the effort that must have gone in was amazing!

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    We didn't want to head south yet as it was still fairly early so decided to check a few things in the far west section. Much of this area seemed to be well built and used more recently as service tunnels for power and telephone.

    Getting to Montparnasse Shelter and Salle du Drapeau (Flag room) looked easy on the map. It wasn't. It was a tight fucking crawl through hell. Dragging our backpacks through was a pain in the arse. I really learnt what tres bas means and I wish I hadn't.

    The shelter however was one of the best preserved areas we had seen. you could really see what this area would have been like when it was an air raid shelter for the train station above.

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    Flag room was also very cool, it was really high which was a good change after being in so many low rooms, like entering Cathedral in Box.

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    We stopped here to cook cassoulet before the long walk back south.

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    On the way we bumped into a knowledgeable french Cataphile named Franz. He knew some other explorers from 28 days later and spoke really good English. We talked about what we had seen and the various entrances which were open, he told us some more history and pointed us in the direction of a model town built from clay - this was incredible!

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    After seeing the town we headed, via the Salle des Lanternes to the Salle des Huitres (oyster room) to sleep.

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  4. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    In the morning, our last morning in the catas, we decided to explore the more visited southern section. It's weird having a 'touristy' part somewhere which is illegal to explore but this unquestionably was. Despite the impressive artwork it really stank from the parties of the previous few days.

    We visited Le Cellier, the basement of an old brewery, and La Plage (the beach) a huge room with a sandy floor.

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    Exiting the catas was weird. The first daylight we had seen in days. We ached and stank. Must have walked and crawled upwards of 20km. We were filthy. Squeezing into the packed metro was more claustrophobic than the tightest crawls but the grins on our faces were huge.

    J'adore les Catacombes!

    So many memories that will stay with me for life.

    Big thanks to OT who helped us loads with the logistics and massive shout to all the Cataphiles we met for being so welcoming!

    Can't wait for our next trip.

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    #4 b3n, Oct 5, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2016
    blossie, Alessio1st, toby and 11 others like this.
  5. Ojay

    Ojay Admin
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    Good effort, it's one big playground for sure, I wish I had more time to spend back down there :thumb
     
  6. b3n

    b3n onehundredandthirtythree
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    It's so fucking good, a mission with heavy bags tho. Although we covered lots we left bits in each area so there are new rooms for future trips.

    I think next time i'll be packing light and try to do as much as we can in one day!
     
  7. Speed

    Speed Got Epic?
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    I'm surprised the police didn't hoof you out. Must have been down for something else!

    Looks like a decent trip!
     
  8. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    Not a problem, glad you enjoyed it and had a worthwhile trip. I think I forgot to say it's fecking heavy work though.

    I was told by a policeman that they are only interested in drugs and knives. It's interesting though not being chucked out. They probably didn't have the 'extraction team' that winches you up one of the shafts, or maybe they just wanted to cover more ground ? Who knows.
     
  9. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    Good report mate looks and sounds like you had a decent run at the place and came out smiling!
     
  10. silentwalker

    silentwalker 28DL Regular User
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    Fantastic write up man, right result you managed to stay down there and got to finish your trip!
     
  11. The Kwan

    The Kwan funksoul Brother
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    Great report and photos, looks like you had a great trip :)
     
  12. drhowser

    drhowser Bespectacled & irrelevant
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    That's a good effort! You certainly got round a lot of it
     
  13. Jimmy

    Jimmy 28DL Full Member
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    Excellent report! Seems like you covered a fair bit :thumb
     
  14. WraithPriest

    WraithPriest 28DL Full Member
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    Amazing! That was a great read, I'm extremely jealous!
     
  15. Garou Garou

    Garou Garou 28DL Regular User
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    Ben - you should join the Paris group on this forum.
     
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