The Paris Catacombs are a massive maze of tunnels running under the city in all directions for hundreds of miles. While it’s possible to visit portions of these subterranean tombs, most of them are off-limits to the public and should not be entered without a guide. The reason for this is something that Philibert Aspairt unfortunately found out firsthand.
Philibert Aspairt was working as a doorkeeper at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital during the French Revolution when he mysteriously went missing in 1793. His disappearance was not solved for many years, until his body was found in the catacombs in 1804, a full 11 years later.
It is thought that Aspairt went down the stairs into the catacombs one day, where he lost the light and could not find the way out. He died slowly and alone in complete darkness. It is not known why he went down, but some think that it might have been to try to break into the basement of the nearby brewery. It is an unfortunate fate, as Aspairt was only a few feet away from a staircase.
Not much was left of Aspairt when he was finally found in a tunnel in Gennevilliers outside Paris, but the buttons on his jacket and the key ring were enough to identify him. His remains were buried where they were found in a small personal tomb. The stone gravemarker roughly translates to: “In the memory of Philibert Aspairt, lost in this excavation of 3 November 1793; found eleven years later and buried at the same place on 30 April 1804.”
Today the room where Aspairt is buried is a popular meeting place for cataphiles, people who enjoy exploring the dark tunnels beneath Paris.
Know Before You Go
Only enter the Paris Catacombs with a guide. Never go in alone. It is illegal and dangerous—you don't want to end up like Philibert.