City’s underground labyrinth where explorers party with millions of skeletons

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While Paris' creepy underground cellar of bones, Les Catacombes, is a popular tourist destination – a lot of people don't know the French capital has a whole network of secret tunnels that have since been commandeered by artists and squatters.

The myriad of forgotten tunnels and caverns, dating back to Roman times, are essentially former quarries from which much of the stone was dug to build the city.

But now, the network has become the illegal playground of thrill-seeking Parisians and tourists in the know.

The 300km of subterranean tunnels is also the stuff of ghostly stories, with the endless labyrinth of caves used to store the remains of up to six million Parisians.

This was done during the 1700s, while the city was in the midst of a crisis dealing with overcrowded cemeteries.

Some parts of the underground network remain open to this day for visitors to take guided tours, although since 1955 large sections of the catacombs have been sealed off.

But that hasn't stopped people breaking in.

A buried bunker built during the Second World War with an armoured door that leads directly to the quarries is one way in, but there are many other entrances that those in the know keep secret to preserve their underground world.

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The humidity is very high – the walls and ceilings ooze with water, and in places you walk through ankle-deep puddles of mud, the Guardian reported after taking a trip beneath the French capital.

Even still, this hasn't stopped cataphiles – a term given to those urban explorers who illegally tour the space – creating underground galleries.

Another attractive aspect, according to those who like to dwell in the tunnels, is the equality they bring.

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“You can’t be judged on your appearance because we are all dirty with mud and wearing boots,” said a 45-year-old pastel artist who gave her name only as Misti, in a chat with the New York Times.

“So the banker and the punk, they party together.”

“We are here for the same passion and we share the same things, regardless of what we are above,” said Gaspard Duval, a cataphile in his 40s who discovered the network six years ago and comes down several times a week, mainly for photography.

“No one cares about your social class.”

Today, trespassers risk a €60 fine if they stumble upon the police units that sometimes patrol underground.

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