PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 20 : Parisian cataphiles, "Universalis", "Lotus", "Lau", et "Boby" go on a evening of urban exploration near Meudon sur Seine on November 20th, 2009 in Paris, France.
Cataphiles are Parisian urban explorers who illegally wander the catacombs, a term popularly used to describe a series of underground tunnels that were formerly a network of stone mines.
The catacombs (or les k'tas as they are known ) are vaste networks of underground galleries, tunnels and crypts under the city of lights. Here, nearly eighty yards below the city's cobble stones, there are no lights, electricity or even sound. There are no living things, creatures or fantastic urban legends in the catacombs; however, it is estimated that a sheer 300 Parisians visit the catacombs weekly. Entering through secret entrances throughout the city and visiting the catacombs is illegal and considered trespassing, although it is somewhat tolerated by locals, and if caught penalized by a small fine.
Entrance to the official catacombs is restricted. The portion of the catacombs open to the public is only a small part of an extensive network of underground tunnels, which spans more than 300 km (about 186 miles) in length. Some passages can be low or narrow, or partially flooded. Because of these dangers, accessing the catacombs has been illegal since November 2, 1955. Secret entrances do however exist throughout Paris, where it is possible for cataphiles to enter the catacombs via the sewers, metro, and certain manholes. Cataphiles are in a sense a community since they share the same spaces and though divided in certain networks, or underground neighborhoods. Cataphiles may not necessarily pledge allegiance to the to the exact network they may actually live above in the city but may choose to visit repeatedly a network beneath a different neighborhood of the city. Rivalry and alliances between networks do exist, and "tourists", or non-cataphiles not always rarely welcome.
Originally built shortly after the French revolution to house the remains of destroyed tombs during the expansion of the city, the catacombs are testimony to over two centuries of the city's historical heritage. Including shelters used by the French resistance during the Nazi occupation of Paris during the second World War. Beginning in the late sixties, Parisians known as cataphiles began restoring some of these spaces, organizing ossuaries to make way for more innovative and creative spaces, or themed-based neighborhoods.
There are three rules which a cataphile must follow and respect. They are as follows :
1) "What comes down must go up." This is a rule that applies to littering, and is throughly respected and enforced, by most cataphiles.
2) "Never speak of the above". Most cataphiles use pseudonyms to identify themselves amongst other cataphiles. What one does for a living or where he/she goes to school is rarely discussed in the catacombs. Any given point is never referred to in terms of an actual map of Paris, but rather of it's situation in these newly-named underground neighborhoods. Many of the plaques indicate the name of the street above, but in some cases certain ones are purposefully misleading.
3) "Never trust anyone". There is a a given notion that an good cataphile is not only someone with sense of adventure, above average navigational skills but obviously also someone who has sufficiently been exposed to life in these underground quarries or to communities that visit the catacombs regularly. It is for this very reason that knowledge of off-the-map locations and of the network in is entirety is secretive and awarded on a merit basis. In short, since the Catacombs are made up of complex tunnel systems ranging on several floors covering an entire city and with only a few existing entrances or exits to the world above, it is advisable never trust anyone, apparent signage or online map.
(Kim Badawi / Reportage by Getty Images)