On August 23, 2004, they discovered a cinema 60 feet beneath Paris, City of Light, really is a tale of two cities. One of them is above ground, with its beloved Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. That’s the city the world sees. And then there’s the city very few us will ever see — an underground Paris, the ‘souterrain.’ NPR’s Jacki Lyden and National Geographic photographer Stephen Alvarez teamed up to see what lies below. (Photographs by Stephen Alvarez/National Geographic)
Here’s what Paris’s police found during a visit to the catacombs…
The sun was shining on the Trocadéro, the Eiffel Tower gleamed across the Seine, and deep belowground, police came across a sign. The officers were on a training mission, exploring the 4.3 miles of catacombs that twist beneath the 16 th arrondissement.
The former quarries are centuries-old, illegal to enter, and the sign at the mouth of the tunnel read, “No public entry.” Police are not the public; they entered.
Their headlamps flashed against the limestone walls and then suddenly the officers were surrounded. Invisible dogs snarled and barked from all sides. The men’s hearts hammered. They froze in their tracks. They cooed canine comforts into the dark.
In time, the officers’ lights found the P.A. system. They found the stereo, with guard-dog yowls burned onto a CD. They found 3,000 square feet of subterranean galleries, strung with lights, wired for phones, live with pirated electricity.