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A Three-Day Expedition To Walk Across Paris Underground (longreads.com)
94 points by BobbyVsTheDevil 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments

I had the chance to go in an underground party in Paris and this was really awesome. Despite being winter it was warm inside the tunnel network. Without our artificial lights we could experience total dark like. The room we stay at had been expanded and decorated by a group of cataphiles and was designed to handle candles which gave an even more great ambiance.

I have always wondered about the fire safety of these events, gathering large numbers of people in spaces not originally intended for that and with (I imagine) unusual constraints on planning mass exits. Do you happen to know whether the fire safety aspect gets scrutinized?

Nothing gets scrutinized - it's illegal to go down there anyway. Folks down there are not always safety conscious or very responsible :o)

Sometimes there are parties with tens or over a hundred people in a big room that only has two crawl holes to exit it.

About fire safety, well it's pretty damp down there, mostly with rocks and dirt. Can't picture a whole room catching fire... But I'm no expert in fire safety.

In a place with sufficiently tight exits like the crawl holes you mentioned, it is enough if there is a little smoke to cause a panic. People will die from being trampled even if there is no actual danger from the fire.

Home-made smoke bombs are a classic (and annoying) prank in the underground. Fills an entire gallery in less than a minute: https://www.loupiote.com/photos_l/catacombes-de-paris-cataco...

Parties I was talking about look like this: https://youtu.be/6E-F-cVqubU

Gas leak... depending on how far down you are, old gas lines tend to leak little bits of gas because they get porous that can pool.

Never heard of such an incident in the catacombs before.

In my uninformed opinion, this seems unlikely: gas pipes in Paris are buried less than 1m deep, whereas the catacombs are 10 to 30m underground, below service galleries for utilities, sewers, and even the subway.

I remember the first time I took MDMA, about three years ago in the underground remnants of a Berlin public pool (“Stattbad” or “Stadtbad” if you want to google images).

The surroundings were almost steampunk, with old pipes and boilers going each very way. Or maybe a WW2 submarine, but larger.

Anyway, I remember an /extremely/ /interesting/ chat (as one is want to have under the influence) with someone working there, in which he assured me they had passed all fire inspections. I had inquired because the only ways out were two extremely steep staircases, barely fitting two people side-by-side each.

Came back a week later only to find it closed. Turns out they never had any permits for the club, only for art exhibits on the ground level. It became a minor political scandal. IIRC there were two authorities who each assumed the other had jurisdiction.

This was underground by location only. It was among the top ten on residentadvisor, in travel guides, etc. Maybe a few hundred people on a Saturday night. I was there with a friend who did press for the mayor. Sort of hiding in plain sight.

FWIW, this was sort of a singular incident as far as I can tell. All the clubs in this town are repurposed, but I haven’t seen any other death traps, and I do tend to try the exits. It also helps that pyrotechnics aren’t big in the scene here, and that LED lighting has taken over.

IMO it is not a good thing that that venue had to close. But I guess that is the time we live in now. Much safer = Much better

With the history of fires in clubs and at events, I’m comfortable with closures until things are rectified. They might be rare but they are devastating.

We weren’t that many, maybe 8 people, ten at most. As for fire safety of course there is no inspection, it’s illegal to go there, but there isn’t anything that can burn either. Everything is made of stone and there is also a lot of humidity everywhere.

can't believe this gets downvoted

I have been down there, and not in the tourist section. There is some interesting stuff, especially where cataphiles have excavated new sections. The diverse array of art down there is also really nice. Unfortunately the bone rooms have pretty much all been desecrated and a vastly different from their original state. You can see a sort of 'high tide' mark on the walls where the level of the bones were, and the current level which in many places is at least one meter lower. This is for example in a radius 2m circular pit (which I crawled through). Apparently people just take bones home for fun (?). There is also a big throne made from long bones that have been tied together, there are many photos online. All in all a pretty cool place, I will visit again. Highlight was definitely my host cooking cheese fondue in an excavated dining hall.

I'd guess most "new sections" are just part of the Mines/Catacombs of Paris whose access was previously blocked by the official organisation in charge of them, the Inspection générale des carrières.


Maybe. I definitely saw people digging though, and I went through large sections that were newly dug. This was in 2014. Also, sometimes new building foundations are cut into the existing tunnels, and new tunnels are also dug into building foundations. Interestingly, the cataphiles I spoke to strongly 'discouraged' theives from entering buildings in this way. Something about not drawing undue attention from authorities.

I heard that story of authorities blocking some tunnels and cataphiles removing the blocks from someone who went down there; I don't know how widespread it was.

It's a common game of cat and mice, still "played" to this day. When they can be bothered enough, authorities will fill a section of a gallery with concrete. And, in turn, when cataphiles can be bothered enough, they tear down a piece of an adjacent wall and dig through the dirt on the other side to go around the blocked section. I've also seen crawl holes dug under 1m-or-2m-thick rubble walls.

Amazing to see the length people will go to :')

And the 8-minute above-ground version: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WJYOMFayruw

I've always kinda admired the French disregard for red traffic lights. Seems for feasible for pedestrians than cars, though^^

This is a stunt though, and people had been posted at junctions with little visibility.

But otherwise, it's not the first time I hear a comment similar to yours but I'm always surprised because I have never ever seen anyone willfully disregard a red traffic light in France. It seems to me that they are taken much more seriously than they are in for example the US (where it's not rare to see one or two cars getting through after the light has turned red, or just before it turns green) or neighbouring countries like Belgium.

To me, red lights are the one traffic rule that is taken as an absolute thing to respect in France. Maybe it's different in the south or Paris though, I don't really know these places that well when it comes to driving.

Only one, apparently, and their radio broke: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%27%C3%A9tait_un_rendez-vous#...

_So many_ people are running red lights in Paris, there's been a huge increase in the past year or so. I think it's mainly food delivery service scooters.

It works fine for cars too as long as everyone has equal disregard! See: Southeast Asia.

The underground theatre sounds like something UX (Urban eXperiment) would do.


I treasure my copy of Atlas du Paris Soutterain. A second edition came out in 2016--check out amazon.fr

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