Sitting firmly atop my travel bucket list, alongside Tomorrowland in Belgium and Carnival in Brazil is a party that I can’t attend by just purchasing a ticket: one of the Cataphile’s legendary all night raves in the Catacombs underneath Paris.
The Catacombs are a series of wide tunnels and interconnected rooms that were constructed underneath the city in 1774. The original reason for their construction was to be ossuaries (i.e., a final resting place for skeletal remains typically constructed when burial space is scarce, don’t worry I had to look it up too, thx @ Wikipedia) So basically, the Catacombs are like a graveyard except instead of burying the bodies Le Francais just stacked all the skeletons on top of each other.
While in Paris, I visited the official part of the Catacombs, and it’s super cool in an extremely creepy sort of way. Stacks of skulls line the underground like the walls of a maze and there are some rather chilling messages inscribed in French on the wall.
The Catacombs is open to the public but only a fraction of their entirety is included in the tour. The tunnels are actually must more expansive, with most of it being closed off and illegal to enter.
Enter the Catophiles, named for their obsession with breaking and entering into the Catacombs to throw huge, secret, parties and and paint gorgeous murals on the walls.
One of my brief flings in Paris let me in on this little secret, and even passed on some ~illegal~ maps of the formally undocumented Catacombs. (Which he REFUSED to let me post here for fear of legal consequences. Whatever Xavier. The French are just a little bit dramatic.) The maps of the entire underground network are not available to the public and the original founders of the Cataphiles actually STOLE a copy from French officials, which is pretty savage and says a lot about French government security.
The work it takes to make this magical event happen is significant. Breaking into the unofficial Catacombs requires wading through large amounts of water with heavy DJ equipment, evading the authorities, and lighting lanterns to dance around in tunnels lit only by firelight.
One branch of the Cataphiles have a mission beyond just having a good time: Les UX (the Urban eXperiment) work to secretly improve hidden, yet historically significant areas of Paris that are underfunded or overlooked by the government. They set up a secret, underground bar, restaurant, and movie theatre within the Catacomb tunnels. These were infiltrated by the police in 2004, following the tip of a revenge-bent ex-girlfriend of one of the group’s members. (Lol, these people are savage.) The police found a camera installed to record everyone who entered and motion sensors that triggered a recording of barking dogs to ward off trespassers.
But the authority crackdown hasn’t stopped the Cataphiles. They still secretly enter through manholes and tunnels off the metro and party all night. Every member of the group is sworn to secrecy and it’s impossible to attend unless invited.
The whole endeavour is not without the thrill of a bit of danger: cave ins are possible (although rare) and it’s easy to get lost without the proper (unofficial) guide. However, I draw the line at entering through any of the manmade tunnels only big enough for one person at a time, which is literally a scene out of The Descent. Hard pass.
This probably says something unsettling about my psyche, but I am DYING (lmaooooo no pun intended) to party within La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell) next to a bunch of skulls.
Sources: (28dayslater.co.uk: user "dweeb"), https://www.unbelievable-facts.com/2017/01/secret-underground-theater.html, http://www.brain-magazine.fr, nationalgeographic.com,http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en