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In this image, painted on an ancient-Greek vase, we see Paris abducting Helen. The figure between the two is Eros, the Greek god of desire.

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The scene is painted on an Athenian red-figure clay vase created sometime between BC. Image online via Wikimedia Commons. Helen, considered to be the most-beautiful woman in the late-bronze-age world, was married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. Some of the bone decorations are over years old. Once you included the rest of the city cemeteries the count came to roughly 6 million sets of remains that needed to be disinterred and reburied somewhere else for the greater public good.

Given the religious nature of the original burials, they could not simply be dug up and thrown around willy nilly, either — they would have to be re-buried with some form of ritual in one of the largest transmissions of human remains in history.

Paris | Story & Facts |

A tunnel leading down into the Paris Catacombs. Fortuitously for the nascent Paris Catacombs project, the city sat directly above some miles of limestone tunnels that had been carved out to provide the very stones from which the city was built. The tunnels were so extensive that by the 19th century the weight of the city above was creating giant sinkholes into which entire buildings and blocks were collapsing.

No pressure, then. By the tunnels were stable and the remains of dead Parisians were being dug up every night and transferred into them.

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Crowds have been lining up to take Paris Catacombs tours for over one hundred years. Above ground, public works went on hold for a few years while France had a revolution, executed a lot of people, and then slowly started to rebuild. When Napoleon marched to power on the back of the Revolution he inherited a medieval city that was in the throws of rapid modernization. Given that Rome, which was considered the preeminent monumental city in Europe, already had its much-vaunted system of Catacombs that intrepid tourists could visit, Napoleon decided that France needed something similar.

Comstock, Helen. Berenson, Bernard. Oxford: Clarendon Press, , p. Van Marle, Raimond.


The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, , vol. Buck, Richard D. Weller, Allen S. Fredericksen, Burton B.

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Paul Getty Museum. Malibu: J. Toledano, Ralph. Christiansen, Keith, Laurence B. Kanter, and Carl Brandon Strehlke, eds. Abrams, , p.

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Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Lyons, Claire L.