Category Archives: FRANCE

Why There Are Six Million Skeletons Stuffed Into The Tunnels Beneath Paris

Why There Are Six Million Skeletons Stuffed Into The Tunnels Beneath Paris

One of his mysterious entrances into the French capital Paris should you be closely looking for. But if you trip over it, it shows a dark and dank and narrow tunnel underground world with a fascinating history.

The bones of 6 million people known as the French Empire of the Dead a reality brought to life in the recent CNN movie-lie underneath the City of Light where 12 million people are living there.

The Paris catacombs are a 200-mile network of old caves, tunnels, and quarries – and much of it is filled with the skulls and bones of the dead.

Much of the catacombs are out of bounds to the public, making it illegal to explore unsupervised. But nevertheless, it is a powerful draw for a hardcore group of explorers with a thirst for adventure.

A tourist-friendly, the legal entrance can be found off Place Denfert-Rochereau in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, near the Montparnasse district.

Here, visitors from all over the world can descend into the city’s dark and dank bowels for a whistle-stop tour of a small section of the catacombs.

One visitor told CNN: ‘I think people are fascinated with death. They don’t know what it’s about and you see all these bones stacked up, and the people that have come before us, and it’s fascinating. We’re trying to find our past and it’s crazy and gruesome and fun all at the same time.’

Why There Are Six Million Skeletons Stuffed Into The Tunnels Beneath Paris
The macabre mosaics lining the walls of the underground network are the remains of 6million former Parisians

The well-worn trail might be enough to satisfy the tourists, but other Parisians like to go further – and deeper – to explore the network. The name given to the group of explorers who go into the cave network illegally and unsupervised is Cataphiles.

The top-secret groups go deep underground, using hidden entrances all over the city. And they sometimes stay for days at a time, equipped with headlamps and home-made maps.

Street names are etched into the walls to help explorers navigate their way around the underground version of the city and some groups have even been known to throw parties in the tunnels or drink wine.

For catacomb devotees, the silence experienced deep in tunnels cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Urban explorer Loic Antoine-Gambeaud told CNN: ‘I think it’s in the collective imagination. Everybody knows that there is something below Paris; that something goes on that’s mysterious. But I don’t think many people have even an idea of what the underground is like.’

Empire of the dead: While much of the 200-mile network is out of bounds, a small section is open to tourists

Those caught exploring unauthorized sections of the network could end up out of pocket. Police tasked with patrolling the tunnels have the power to hand out fines of 60 euros to anyone caught illegally roaming the network.

A by-product of the early development of Paris, the catacombs were subterranean quarries which were established as limestone was extracted deep underground to build the city above.

However, a number of streets collapsed as the quarries weakened parts of the city’s foundations. Repairs and reinforcements were made and the network went through several transformations throughout history.

However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the catacombs became known as the Empire of the Dead when they became the solution to overcrowding in the city’s cemeteries.

The number of dead bodies buried in Paris’s cemeteries and beneath its churches was so great that they began breaking through the walls of people’s cellars and causing serious health concerns.

So the human remains were transferred to the underground quarries in the early 1780s. There are now more than 6million people underground.

Space was the perfect solution to ease overcrowding in cemeteries but it presented disadvantages elsewhere. It is the reason there are few tall buildings in Paris; large foundations cannot be built because the catacombs are directly under the city’s streets.

The tunnels also played their part in the Second World War. Parisian members of the French Resistance used the winding tunnels and German soldiers also set up an underground bunker in the catacombs, just below the 6th arrondissement.

A postman collected pebbles every day for 33 years and what he created is astounding

A postman collected pebbles every day for 33 years and what he created is astounding

There stands an impressive building deep in the heart of rural France. The Idéal du Facteur Palace is a sculpture piece adorned with carved animals and floral décor and stands at a height of 45 feet (14 meters) high and 85 feet (26 meters) long 

The Palace Idéal is a shrine to the wonder of nature, influenced by Hindu style and Gothic architecture.

But when you remember its history, this beautiful building is even more remarkable. The Palace Idéal was designed by an untrained postman and is made of pebbles that were collected every day.

Cheval’s Palais Idéal.

According to Business Insider, Ferdinand Fernando Cheval was born in 1836 and lived and worked in Châteauneuf de Galaure, a rural village in southeastern France.

He lived a simple and quiet life as a local postman, having left school at the age of 13. However, one day as he was making his daily mail rounds, he stumbled and tripped over a strangely shaped pebble.

Ferdinand Cheval

Fascinated by the properties of the stone, Cheval began to remember a long-forgotten dream of building his own palace. The unusual shape of the stone inspired him, and he returned later to the same spot, only to discover an entire hoard of similar strange rocks.

According to Business Insider, he was so impressed with the beautiful samples of local sandstone that he felt compelled to do something extraordinary with them.

The Palais Idéal, south side. Realized by the postman Ferdinand Cheval (Hauterives, France).

He remarked in his diary, “It was a stumbling block shape so bizarre that I put it in my pocket to admire at my ease. The next day I went back to the same place.

I found more stones, even more beautiful… I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.”

For 33 years, Cheval collected pebbles and brought them back to his home. He often worked at night, by the light of an oil lamp, collecting stones in his wheelbarrow. Gradually, piece-by-piece, he began to construct a lavish structure, originally called ‘The Temple of Nature’. He bound together each of the stones painstakingly with mortar and lime to make cement.

The starting point – the unusually-shaped stone that Cheval tripped over.

The result was nothing short of a miracle. Cheval constructed an elaborate palace drawing on both European and Indian influences, adorned with sculpted animals, intricate pillars and columns, and a stunning terrace.

He drew inspiration from the images and postcards he found on the mail that he delivered every day, conjuring a pleasure palace that was inspired by a wide variety of cultures and architectural styles.

Cheval’s mausoleum.

Cheval’s success is all the more remarkable given that he had no formal training in any kind of masonry or architecture. According to Business Insider, he constructed the palace by himself, stone by stone, learning the skills he needed as he went along. As a result, the Palace is known as one of the finest examples of Naïve art in existence.

When the Palace finally opened to the public in 1907, Cheval was delighted. Although it was initially regarded as a bizarre curiosity, it soon began to attract wider attention, particularly from surrealist artists such as Andre Breton. It was even the subject of an essay by Anaïs Nin.

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval.

Even when the Palace was finished, Cheval was not content to put down his wheelbarrow. He wished to be buried inside his epic structure, but French laws prevented him from making such a request in his will.

As a result, he decided to build his own mausoleum, using the same design and principles as he had employed in the construction of his lavish palace.

Cheval’s tomb stands a short distance from the palace and was completed just one year before his death at the age of 88. It is known as the ‘Tomb of Silence and Endless Rest’, and rivals the Palace Idéal in its elaborate design and creativity.

After a lifetime devoted to creating such marvelous monuments, endless rest is surely what this talented postman deserves.

Ancient footprints show Neanderthals may have been taller than thought

Ancient footprints show Neanderthals may have been taller than thought

We know it as archeologists have seen hundreds of Neanderthals footprints in France — most of them laid by children. They walked and maybe played along the beach in the prehistoric world ;

Do we discover that Neanderthals were more like modern humans than previously thought by following their footsteps?  Have we been underestimated our ancient cousins?

The 257 footprints from Neanderthal found by archaeologists from Le Rozel, on the coast of northwest France, Manche, Normandy, and what is surprising to the scientists is that the majority of the prints are made by children.

The excavation of a footprint on the Le Rozel archeological site

In 1856, in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany, a set of ancient bones were discovered including an oval-shaped skull with a low, receding forehead and distinct brow ridges.

Scientists initially believed belonged to a deformed human but after several weeks the penny dropped that they had discovered an early human ancestor and that species was named  Homo neanderthalensis.

Neanderthal ancestors left Africa before modern humans, as far back as 500,000 years ago, and they were in Europe when our ancestors walked the same journey about 70,000 years ago.

It is thought Neanderthals eventually disappeared around 40,000 years ago. But now, archaeologists in Le Rozel, on the coast of northwest France, in the department of Manche, Normandy, have discovered 257 footprints from Neanderthals and what surprises the scientists is that most of the prints were made by children.

Footprints of A Lost Species

This year, a scientific paper was published in Quaternary Science Reviews explaining that previous to Le Rozel, only one set of 62,000-year-old Neanderthal footprints had ever been found, in Romania.

Then, in 2018, an array of fossilized footprints was discovered in an ancient sand dune in Gibraltar, of the Iberian Peninsula, which was thought to have been left by one of the “last Neanderthals ever to walk the Earth.”

Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis) footprint in the Natural History Museum in Prague.

Coastal erosion first exposed Le Rozel in France in 1967 and the site has been excavated every three months since 2012. The discovery of these “extremely rare footprints” is by far the largest group of hominin fossil footprints found to date. And while some of the footprints were found in isolated patches, some were found in a walking sequence, with one footprint after another.

The new paper, published in PNAS by Dr. Jérémy Duveau of the Museum of National History in Paris and colleagues, says that no hominin species other than Neanderthals are known to have been living in the area of Le Rozel at the time.

This was supported by the types of stone tools they recovered which according to the paper were “typical of Neanderthals of the time”. The scientists concluded that this particular group contained at least four Neanderthals, but more likely up to 13, to count for all the footprints.

Were Neanderthals Taller Than We Think?

The researchers say the first and foremost indicator that these prints were Neanderthal was the shape of the foot, which is flatter and “less gracile” than ours. Of the 257 recorded footprints, 88 were complete and ranged from 11.4 to 28.7 centimeters (4.5 to 11.3 inches) in length, indicating the Neanderthals ranged from 74 centimeters in height (2 feet, 5 inches tall) to 185 centimeters (6 feet, 1 inch) – children and adults.

The partial skeleton of a Neanderthal child.

The scientists found the average height within this group of Neanderthals was 175 centimeters, (5 feet, 7 inches) compared with modern Homo sapiens averaging about 5 feet, 9 inches. These measurements, according to a report in New Scientist, match the average height of a man in the USA today suggesting Neanderthals could have been “taller than previous evidence suggests.”

Crabs on A Beach Leave Many Prints

The measured sizes of the footprints established that “more than half the occupants were shorter than 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3 inches) tall” suggesting that between 80 to 90 percent of the individuals were children, with a 2-year-old’s print measuring only 11.4 centimeters (4.5 inches) in length.

However, caution must be extended to the suggested group size of 13 based on the footprint count for, as any of you that have children will know, when left to their own devices, they can be like beach crabs tootling to-and-fro with the tide.

In practice, one child leaves many prints for everyone left by an adult, but accounting for this and other variables, the team of researchers believe their conclusion that children made up most of the group “is reasonable”.

These new results were compared to another Neanderthal group that had lived in the El Sidrón cave system in northern Spain in Normandy about 48,000 years ago, where researchers conducted mitochondrial genetic analysis and found seven adults, three adolescents, two children, and one infant—which is clearly a far higher proportion of adults to children.

British-French Interconector Brings Crashed WW2 Plane Back to Light

Lost WW2 Aircraft lifted from the sea after more than 75 years

Specialist divers and archeologists finished an operation this week to recover the wreckage of a 1943 Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber (thought to be No. BV739) – just in time for D-Day’s 75th anniversary.

The three-seater plane, part of 810 Squadron Royal Navy Air Station, based at Lee-On-Solent is believed to have got into difficulty shortly after taking off for its test flight before crashing 500m from the coast in Portsmouth.

It was found by National Grid engineers last summer during a seabed survey ahead of the construction of new subsea electricity cable between England and France.

The cable, called an interconnector, will be buried in the seabed and will stretch for 240km between Fareham, Portsmouth and Normandy, France and deliver cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy for UK consumers. The UK government has targeted 9.5 GW of additional interconnector capacity in its Clean Growth Strategy. This is because interconnectors are recognised as a key tool in enabling the flow of excess zero carbon energy from where it is generated where it is needed most.

The Barracuda wreckage is the only one to have ever been found in one piece and the last remaining aircraft of its kind in the UK.

Boats on water – Retrieval boat and dive barge for the operation 

David Luetchford, Head of IFA2 for National Grid said: “Interconnectors are about bringing us closer to a zero-carbon future, but we must also respect the past. An important part of our job is to always have a thorough and sympathetic approach to archaeological finds.

Over the course of the project we’ve inspected over 1,000 targets of interest, many of which were found to be unexploded ordnance, not unusual given the history of this location. However, to have found a 1943 Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber is incredible and such a key piece of British history.

It’s not every day you get the chance to play a role in an operation like this and it is very lucky to have found the plane in such a small search area. We surveyed a 180-meter-wide area along the cable route and if we had chosen a slightly different route, there is a good chance the plane would never have been found.”

Work to fully retrieve the plane is expected to take around three weeks in total as experts from Wessex Archaeology are carefully excavating the area around the aircraft and removing large amounts of silt and clay.

So far, one of the wings has successfully been lifted out of the waters and work on the second is currently underway. The remainder of the plane will be recovered by lifting it in sections over the coming days.

Wessex Archaeology lead archaeologist Euan McNeil said: “Our team has been working closely with all those involved to ensure that any risks to heritage assets on the seafloor are mitigated. This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology.

“We have been undertaking the excavation under a licence from the MoD, and it has taken careful planning to ensure that we lift the remains and any associated material which may have been scattered as it sank – without causing its condition to deteriorate significantly. This has involved excavating the silt around the plane and sieving it for artefacts, then carefully dividing the remaining structure into manageable sections for lifting.

“The recovery of the Fairey Barracuda will aid an ongoing Fleet Air Arm Museum project to recreate what will be the world’s only complete example of this type of aircraft. This will give us a chance to examine a unique lost piece of aviation history”

Once retrieved, the parts will be taken to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset where it will be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda in the site’s aircraft hangar.

David Morris, Curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy has been working on the project for several years and visited four other Barracuda crash sites to retrieve suitable parts.

He said: “This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history. There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage will be studied to enable us to see how the plane segments fitted together and how we can use some of the parts we currently have.

“This find is a huge step forward for our project and we can’t wait to get it back to the museum and share our findings with the public.”

The plane’s pilot has been named as SUB LNT DJ Williams who managed to escape the crash and survived WW2.