Why the Sewage System of Paris Is Famous

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When you think of sewers, the reaction is rarely good. It is hard not to wrinkle your nose in disgust when someone brings up sewers in a conversation. Even when the topic is about Indianapolis sewer repair, it is rare that someone would be comfortable talking about it while having dinner.

But, there are some sewer systems in the world that are viewed more favorably than others. Case in point: the Paris sewage system, which has even become a tourist attraction. Its rich history has enabled it to change its reputation as a cesspool into the city’s hidden historical treasure.

Paris’ Catacombs

Les Catacombes de Paris is such a huge tourist attraction in France that there is more than a three-hour waiting time for people to get in. And even if you wait more than three hours, it is not a guarantee that you will be able to enter and visit the catacombs.

Here are the reasons these catacombs are quite popular with tourists.

  • They house more than six million Parisians – Paris in the 18th century could not keep up with the number of dead people. Their cemeteries were overflowing with the deceased, so they had to find another place to bury them. So, Parisians dug up their dead and buried them underneath their city streets in the sewer system.
  • Espionage groups have made a home here – French police found a secluded area near the catacombs where it looked like people lived there. In addition to that, the people who lived there had equipment that enabled them to spy on other people.
  • Human bones are arranged to serve as decoration – It is a grisly sight, but if you get the chance to enter the catacombs, you will see thousands of human skulls arranged together to cover a wall and some posts. If you scare easily, however, it would be better to avoid this part of the tour.

Victor Hugo wrote about the sewers


If you are a big fan of Victor Hugo and his pièce de résistance, Les Misérables, you need to visit the sewer system when you are in town. Hugo wrote extensively about the sewers in his iconic novel, describing it in 50 pages. Here, he wrote about the protagonist Jean Valjean’s heroism when he carried the wounded Marius to safety. But, Hugo did not write about the sewers based only on his imagination. He actually spoke with a sewer inspector named Emmanuel Bruneseau, who was also his friend.

Monsieur Bruneseau was Napoleon Bonaparte’s designated cartographer of the Parisian sewage system. Paris’ sewer system is so large that Napoleon wanted someone to come up with a map to make sense of the labyrinthine tunnels. So, armed with Bruneseau’s map, Hugo was able to depict Paris’ sewer system in his novel quite accurately.

So, if you happen to be in Paris, take a day or two to visit the sewer system of the “City of Light.” You will be surprised to discover that a sewer system has achieved worldwide popularity despite its primary purpose.

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