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Paris: A modern look at a classic city (3)

Posted by on September 22, 2013

Finally, the third and the last part on my article about this great city - Paris.

...The world’s most visited museum has plenty of similar treasures hiding in plain sight, beginning with the earliest work on display – a 9000-year old human figure in ghostly white plaster from Ain Ghazal in Jordan. Tutankhamun of Egypt lived closer in time to us than to the people who made this statue – a whisper from a nameless past. ‘We almost don’t want to say which rooms are less visited than they should be – we would like to keep them quiet!’ says Daniel Soulié, who has written several books on the Louvre. ‘The whole Richelieu wing and the second floor, the galleries of French sculpture and objets d’art, the paintings of the Northern European schools – these are fabulous collections which don’t get so many visitors.’


The Paris catacombs were originally made to provide a quick solution to the problem of excessively growing population. By the late 18th century, the medieval cemeteries couldn't just keep up with the bones from new deaths. Paris already had a network of tunnels, built from Roman times onwards to quarry high-quality limestone for buildings such as Notre-Dame. From 1786, the old city-centre cemeteries were gradually emptied, and their contents brought to these tunnels with the accompanying of the priest. The last of the transfers to the catacombs was made in 1860, by which time vast suburban cemeteries such as Père Lachaise had relieved the burden on the city. The catacombs begin with a doorway over which is written: ‘Arrête! C’est içi l’empire de la mort’ (‘Stop! Here is the empire of death’). This is the first of many “philosophical” inscriptions that were designed, to ‘break the sinister and dark monotony’. The embankments of bones on either side of the passageways have signs stating the original cemeteries and dates of reburial. Even here the human urge to be decorative expresses itself in patterns of skulls and femurs. The first bones had been thrown in haphazardly, in a rationalist 18th century that just wanted these unsavoury remains put somewhere safely out of sight. But when burials resumed after a hiatus caused by the turmoil of the French Revolution, Romanticism had become the “mindset of the world”, and the catacombs were refashioned into a place where visitors could enjoy a “dignified sadness”


Eifel Tower:
Notre Dame:

Written by James Crandell

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