Ahh Paris, City of Light, love and all things glamorous. But given its incredibly violent and often morbid past, it should really come as no surprise that this strikingly beautiful dreamer destination has a myriad of macabre, terrible tales. From cannibalism, extreme torture, and alleged devil worship to numerous beheadings – not to mention that the city is built on the bones of the dead – here are 10 of ParisLens Tours’ favourite freaky locations to visit!
1. Vampire Alley
Located in the Pere Lachaise cemetery in the 20eme of Paris, Vampire Alley is known officially as ‘Chemin du Dragon’, which translates to ‘Path of the Dragon’. Its name shares a striking similarity with the Order of the Dragon, (Ordo Dracul), of which Vlad the Impaler’s family were also members, thus indelibly linking the name and this alley to vampires. It’s one of my favourite places in all of Paris, mainly because it feels so very strange and unsettling, even amidst the eerie disquiet of the other surrounding tombs. Strengthening the vampiric associations of this narrow pathway through the cemetery, many of the elaborate headstones along it – no less than 16 – are adorned with carvings of bats, strange alchemical symbols suggesting resurrection, and other bizarre images indicative of eternal life. Some of the strangest tombs on it belong to Countess Elisabeth Alexandrovna Demidoff and Antoine de Guillaume-Lagrange, amongst several others. Demidoff’s mausoleum is amongst the most striking in all the cemetery, and the story goes that she left a clause and a section of her immense fortune in her will to any person that could survive a year living in the tomb with her body! Many tried and failed after mere days, screaming and banging to be let out, one even dying of a heart attack and other driven mad. One survivor stated that he felt his very life force leaving his body, and many that pass by or stand at the mausoleum report strange feelings and sensations, as if their energy is being sucked away. No challenger has ever succeeded, and the tomb is now sealed and challengers refused by the authorities, leading one to wonder eternally what is going on at the Demidoff tomb! The monument to Lagrange appears a much more simple affair at first glance, so much that one might be inclined to overlook it! However, it was the first sculpture erected in the cemetery in 1817and is the work of CP Arnaud and designed by Godde, architect of the main entrance and chapel, and is covered with ornate carvings and a dedication on the back by his mother referring to eternal life and reunions with her son. Most significantly, it is called the Tomb of the Dragon, as Lagrange was a member of regiment of Dragons and died in battle in Eastern Europe. Some say that you can hear the cries or his anguished mother if you linger after dark, at which point the carving of Lagrange’s face on the tomb appears to appear more life-like! These reports all add to the myth of vampires along Chemin du Dragon and are ParisLens favourites! Not to mention, of course, the sightings and sounds of Chopin, Jim Morrison, and the big red phantom cat, amongst other stories, in different sections of the cemetery…
2. Rue de la Huchette to Rue de la Harpe
Located in the Latin Quarter, these are two of the oldest streets in Paris, and home to some macabre tales indeed, though you wouldn’t guess this if you visit the popular and lively area by day. Both of the rues lay claim to quite a history of their own, featuring 15th century buildings and lodgings of Napoleon Bonaparte, along with original wall engravings and signifiers. However, number 5, now more famously known as popular swinging jazz bar Caveau de la Huchette, has a very torrid past indeed! The building dates back to the 1550s, and, still preserved in its original state, was once a secret meeting place for the Knights Templar, and was accessed via hidden underground passages that still exist today, including a well in the level below the performance area. Sadly these areas are not accessible to visitors, though you can see some really amazing original artefacts, such as a musket and a chastity belt (!) in the bar area. It is said that you can hear whispers along the passages, possibly echoes of past secret conversations. During the French Revolution, the Caveau became a base of operations for leading revolutionaries such as Georges Danton and Jean-Paul Marat, who used the rooms as an impromptu court, jail and (gulp) execution area, disposing of ‘crimes’ down the well. Tortured victims of the Terror held here have certainly imbued several rooms with an eerie ambience, despite the whirling rush of dancers! Shadows and feelings of sudden fear have been reported here, making the Caveau one of the most macabre and fascinating sites in the whole of Paris, and a must-visit place for an enjoyable evening. Just around the corner on rue de la Harpe, which is accessible half-way down Huchette, the Parisian chief of police, Joseph Fouché, recorded a series of murders by a baker and barber on the street. Widely acknowledged as the first recorded serial killers of modern times, the pair are said to have murdered many men, slitting their throats and selling them in pies during food crises, and have inspired many writers and dramatists with their tale! I’m sure you know how the story goes..
Considering the torrid past of the world-famous Notre-Dame cathedral, which has stood for almost a millennia and witnessed (even housed) the Inquisition and Revolution, it will surely come as no surprise that there have been many sightings of spectres and spooks there over the years. From the ghostly apparitions of monks and monarchs glimpsed by visitors, to strange apparitions and time-lapses appearing in tourist photographs, the ornate and beautiful building, aside from the gargoyles and grotesque statues, also features many bizarre alchemical symbols. It is rumoured that the very architecture of the building itself is made up of alchemical design, housed meetings and meditations by alchemists such as Nicholas Flamel and Bishop Guillaume de Paris, and that even the sought-after Philosopher’s Stone was hidden by the latter inside the Cathedral. Such notions fascinated Victor Hugo, who immortalised and led the restoration of the site via his infamous novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831). Strengthening occultist links to the site, the Notre-Dame stands upon a place where Druidic sacrifice and pagan worships were carried out and is actually the third of three churches built here! The cathedral’s most famous stories centre around the main doors, which were reputedly designed by the Devil himself after their creator, Biscornet, allegedly despaired of his work and invoked the Devil to complete it, damning his soul in the process and leading to his suicide. The doors were also supposedly blessed with holy water after the body of Biscornet and his confessing note was discovered, because they would not open! A further well-known story concerns a weeping, allegedly suicidal female known only as MJ, who threw herself from the south tower during a storm in 1882 and landed on the railing spikes below, which ripped her into two. Accompanied by a mysterious and unknown nun at the time of her death who subsequently disappeared without a trace, both have been sighted by visitors peeking out from between the gargoyles on stormy nights, leading ParisLens Tours to wonder if it was a suicide after all, or perhaps something even spookier?
4. Jardin du Luxembourg
The stunning grounds and palace at Jardin du Luxembourg alone are breathtakingly beautiful, and yet I always find myself looking for an old man in a frock coat! The story goes that, in 1925, a young man called Jean Romier was studying in the gardens one morning when the elderly gentleman who introduced himself as Alphonse Berruyer approached him to chat. He ended up inviting the keen student back to his home that evening to listen to chamber music, of which they were both fans. Romier attended and enjoyed a sumptuous evening listening to the music and chatting to guests, but upon leaving realised he had left his lighter on the table in the apartment. Turning to go back inside, he found the building in darkness and no trace of the guests he had just been with! Calling up the building attendant, who assured Romier that no one currently lived there, they ended up going into the rooms together to see, as the young man was becoming increasingly distressed and insistent. Inside the apartment, thick dust indicated no-one had been inside for a very long time, and there was no sign of the furniture and people Romier had witnessed. However, there was a painting on the wall of the old man! The building attendant assured Romier that the previous tenant, Mr Berruyer, has been dead for thirty years! Shocked and turning to leave, the student then noticed his lighter on the table where he had left it, enveloped under a thick layer of dust! Whilst this is just the first recorded sighting of Mr Berruyer, others claim to have had a similar experience, often early in the morning or late in the evening! I always keep my eyes peeled for him – whilst I’m not a fan of chamber music, I do love ghostly encounters! A lesser known story follows that of French Duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, suspected of brutally beating and stabbing his wife to death in their Parisian home in 1847. He refused to admit to the terrible crime despite compelling circumstantial evidence and a witness having seen him wash blood from his hands and clothes. Being an esteemed public figure, the Duke was held in the grand Palais du Luxembourg, itself causing a scandal over the preferential treatment of privileged people that in part led to the Revolution of 1848. However, he poisoned himself with arsenic before the trial, and died a horrible, agonising death, his screams shaking the very walls of the palace. Some say that ominous shadows, sick feelings and screams have been experienced inside the palace and near its exterior. Maybe the Duke has been cursed to relive his death as payment for his gruesome crime?
5. Hôtel de Ville
This glamorous public square and striking town hall have an incredibly macabre history. The ground upon which it all sits used to be the main site of executions in the city, called Place de la Grève, before the gallows and guillotine were moved to Place de la Concorde in the neighbouring arrondissement during the French Revolution. During the 16th century the Grève was often referred to as the burning chamber, on account of the constant smell of burning flesh emanating from the area, as victims were often burned at the stake here. Often viewed as a form of public entertainment, crowds would gather here to watch the accused face various other punishments, such as being broken on the wheel, having their flesh torn with red hot pincers and the wounds filled with molten lead, being drawn and quartered, eviscerated, hung, or any number of awful torturous devices. The executions of prominent persons were also often held here, including those of assassins François Ravaillic and Robert-François Damiens, bandit Guy Éder de la Fontenelle, and alleged sorceresses La Voisin and Marguerite Porete. One of the most blood-soaked sites in all of Paris, modern-day witnesses claim to have heard screams and cries, and have seen dark shapes, shadows and orbs around the square, in real life and in tourist photographs. The most chilling of these spiritual sensory perceptions, of course, are from those that state with certainty that burnt flesh can be smelt in the area upon occasion. Furthermore the neighbouring bridge linking the area to Île Saint Louis, Pont Marie, is the place where, during World War 2, a woman waiting for her lover froze to death through the night. Known as the mysterious weeping woman, her cries and wails have been heard by those on or close to the deserted bridge in the midnight hours, as she searches for the lover who never came back. Shadows and orbs have been caught on tourist pictures in this area too, and it has a very eerie feel as darkness envelopes it. Visit and sit on one of the benches a while, if you dare!
6. Place du Châtelet
A mere block away from the Hôtel de Ville, the Place du Châtelet is a pretty if somewhat unassuming public square that contains a fountain commemorating Napoleon’s victories in Egypt. A little known fact is that the fountain sits upon the site of the former Grand Châtelet prison, where terrible tortures and often secretive executions of prisoners were carried out. The Grand Châtelet began life in the 9th century as one of two wooden structures intended to defend the islands against invading Vikings, so it witnessed much bloodshed even before it was converted into a thick, stone-walled castle housing prisoners and offices of the prévôt, whose purpose was to uncover threats against the throne, by Louis VI in the 12th century. The walls reputedly muffled the agonised screams of those tortured within its subterranean dungeons, which were even more feared and notorious than those of the Bastille, because many of its unlucky inhabitants often never saw a court. Famous prisoners include highway man Cartouche, who robbed the rich and gave to the poor before he was imprisoned, tortured and broken on the wheel, and poisoner Desrues, amongst others. The sinister reputation enjoyed by the prison has been compounded by slaughters of prisoners carried out there by revolutionaries, before being razed to the ground by Napoleon in the early 1800s. Most visitors to the site today would never imagine the horrors committed beneath their feet. Opposite the fountain stands the Théâtre de la Ville, which has a story of its own! After his mistress and muse actress Jenny Colon died, famous French poet Gérard de Nerval hung himself down an alleyway from a lamppost where the theatre now stands, unable to cope following his loss. Visitors, workers and performers to the theatre and surrounding area have often reported seeing the ghostly figure of the dead poet wandering the building and surrounding streets. Nerval has also been seen in his hanging position from rafters behind the stage area, and whispers have been heard in the dressing rooms as he asks, “Is that you, Jenny?” Go see a play there if you get the chance – you might just get more than your ticket’s worth!
7. Rue des Chantres to Rue Chanoinesse
Located on the quieter side of Île de la Cite, which escaped Haussmann’s severe landscaping of Paris into the city we know today, rue des Chantres and rue Chanoinesse showcase a glimpse of old Paris, and one or two spirits of times gone by roam along them. These incredible yet often deserted streets, located a mere stone’s lob away from the tourist throng of the Notre-Dame, are a must-see location for any visitor intent on capturing more ‘authentic’ side of Paris, and the stories held in their narrow passageways merely add to the ambience of forgotten times. The first story is a particularly tragic one, as the basement to a building along rue des Chantres housed, in 1910, many children suffering from TB, kept separate from other patients at the nearby Hôtel de Dieu to minimise infection. Paris was victim to a severe flood in the winter of 1910, when the Seine burst its banks and flooded the little islands as much as up to 8 metres deep. During the panic and bustle of moving the many patients out of the main hospital, the little children were, tragically, forgotten, and their drowned bodies not discovered and removed until after the flood waters receded. The incident was largely glossed over at the time, and subsequently all but forgotten due to the outbreak of war in 1914. However, there are reports that children can be heard both laughing on the nearby gardens, and that screams and cries can be heard echoing from the tine street when no-one is around. The area certainly feels heavy and sad to pass through. There is a memorial to the little lost children of rue des Chantres on the wall under the sign (see the feature image for the page), which is both chilling and fitting to their memory; they may have been forgotten once, but history will not let them be forgotten again. Just around the corner at rue Chanoinesse, a popular story not dissimilar to that heard on rue de la Harpe in the Latin Quarter surrounds the disappearance and murder of several young men in the 13th century. Legend has it that a young man and theology student moved into the apartments along the street with his dog, only to suddenly vanish overnight without a trace. His dog, however, stood for days outside a butcher’s shop on the street and could not be moved by a soul, instead pining for his missing master. Eventually, following further investigations after the young man’s friends alerted authorities to the odd occurrence, several human remains were found inside the basement of the butcher’s shop, leading to the belief that a string of young men who had moved to the street and disappeared over previous months had actually fallen victim to the murderous butcher, who had subsequently sold their flesh as meat to hungry customers! The stone butchers slab upon which they were murdered reputedly still exists, and is inside a building now owned by police forces, who peer out ominously as one passes by. Ghostly monks, who also lodged in the street once-upon-a-time to be near the Notre-Dame, have also been seen as spooky apparitions that fade into walls and round corners up ahead. Definitely a place to visit at night if you want to be thoroughly creeped out!
8. Le Louvre
Originally built as a fortress in the 12th century, the Louvre museum was turned into a palace and became a key royal residence from the 14th century onwards, so similar to the Notre-Dame, the building has seen more than its fair share of history over the years! Now the second largest (and second most popular) museum in the world, it is home to some of the greatest works of art known to man, and receives a stunning amount of visitors by day, but at night, its corridors and exhibits are reputedly roamed by visitors of the more supernatural kind! Some of the most popular stories concern the alleged devilry associated with the pyramid in the courtyard, which apparently contains 666 pieces of glass, and it’s whole construction, along with that of the smaller accompanying small and inverted pyramids, is based along the number 6, associated with the devil. Popular film The Da Vinci Code (2006) fictitiously reveals that under the pyramid is the final resting place of Mary Magdalene, whose bloodline is supposedly traceable to the Merovingian dynasty. In real life, there are rumours that the spot is actually the secret final resting place of President Francois Mitterand, who commissioned the pyramid installation to be made, and that he is buried deep underneath its grounds. Another rumour revered by locals is that many of the paintings exhibited in the Louvre contain real human blood in the paints and inks, adding to the myth that the site is connected to devil worship from the days of Catherine de Medici, AKA the Black Queen. Speaking of her, she was responsible for orchestrating the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre which can be seen as the ‘original’ Red Wedding (thanks, George RR Martin!), at the Louvre palace. The massacre, which entailed the slaughtering of Huguenot Protestant leaders under the guise of being invited as guests to a royal wedding, led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Huguenots across the country, with reports recording that the streets and even the Seine ran red with their blood. Old guards have also been seen walking the area or captured in photographs, as have Roman soldiers, painters and their muses, German officers… Amongst the most notorious of the hauntings include that of the Red Man. Whilst specifically having been an intermittent resident of the Palais de Tuileries before it was burned to the ground in 1871, the Red Man was a monk, gardener and eaves-dropper during the reign and residency of de Medici, who ordered his death after he sold stories to local newspapers. The assassin she hired reported seeing the ghost of the Red Man almost instantly after murdering him, and de Medici herself fled the Palais for alternative lodgings after witnessing him in her bedchambers, a portent of death. The Red Man was subsequently seen by Marie Antoinette when she was captive in the Palais during the French Revolution, and also by Napoleon before his downfall at Waterloo, and by Napoleon III, the Red Man shrouded in flames the eve before the Commune of 1871, when the Palais and much of the then-connected Louvre were destroyed in fires. His spirit has been glimpsed in the Louvre, and also in the Jardin de Tuileries. If the movement to have the Tuileries palace restored is successful, perhaps the Red Man will return once more to haunt his former home and those that reside in its halls! Finally, the museum houses one of my personal favourite exhibits – the Egyptian collection. According to legend, some of the mummies rise and walk the Louvre at night, with particular reports that one, named Belphegor, rises nightly and has a vengeful spirit. If one doubts the validity of such claims, there is a placard in the medieval section of the Louvre acknowledging the ghosts that roam there. If you’re quiet enough, you might just hear them…
Part of a wider complex of buildings on Île de la Cite, the conciergerie has had varied uses in the past but is best known as being the island’s former prison. During the Revolution many people were kept here, amongst more serious criminals and offenders, for the most ridiculously perceived crimes, before the most unfair trials and passings of judgement. These usually ended in execution sentences being handed down, which were often instantaneously carried out at the Parvis du Notre-Dame, Place du Gréve, or Place de la Revolution. Many prisoners were often crammed into the tiny cells, and infection, diseases and rats were rife. The jailors were renowned for being particularly cruel and conniving – wealthier prisoners could pay vast amounts to occupy private rooms for a month, but could then be sentenced and executed the next day or week, allowing the jailors to make massive profits. The dungeons of the conciergerie were also notoriously hellish, with prisoners kept in dank and torrid conditions for lengthy durations, whilst other prisoners were allowed out for stretches of time. The building also has its own torture chamber in one of the towers which garnered quite a reputation of its own. Famous prisoners include Marie Antoinette, and Revolutionaries Georges Danton and Robespierre, both of whom had been responsible for many lives lost during the Terror! Contemporary visitors to the Conciergerie have reported awful sounds of cries and screams, and terrible smells, vestiges of the poor conditions captives lived in. Strange shadows and orbs have also been seen here, with many tourists having reported feeling sudden bouts of panic and intense fear, atmospheric remnants left behind. Even passing by the exterior walls along Quai de Horloge quite successfully leave one gripped with fear; try it sometime!
10. Rue Lemercier
This final location in the 17th arrondissement is a rather unassuming neighbourhood street, with daily life bustling around in all directions. In August 1869, however, a woman was found burned to death in unburned clothes and an unburned room in a house down this very rue. Newspapers at the time recorded this strange and mysterious event as one of internal combustion after potential murder was ruled out; the woman had last been seen by her husband after returning home from work, and two hours later when he tried the bedroom doorknob he found it to be scorching hot, so he called for help. Neighbours broke inside and they found the room to be filled with foul, acrid smoke, and the remains of the woman on the floor. Anomolyinfo.com report that,
The woman was lying on the floor between the hearth and the bed, her head half under the bed and her legs across the closed and fireless hearth. The floor beneath her was completely destroyed, burned to coal and still smouldering, and formed an excavation in which the remains of much of her torso were found. Her head and upper torso were intact, though her upper torso was covered by a fine black dust which may have been the remains of her clothing. Her face was swollen and purplish red, but not burned; her hair, gathered in a bun at the back of her head, was also unburned. In the burned floor area there were bits of bones, ribs, and other incompletely incinerated material. Her left arm was completely missing from the shoulder down. Her right hand was gone, and the bones of her elbow were exposed to view, but the muscles of the forearm and upper arm were not destroyed. The left and back of her chest cavity were pressed wide open, and the chest cavity was empty of organs; The lower ribs were detached, and nothing but bone still existed from the chest cavity down to the top of the thighs. Both legs from the thighs down were completely intact, and covered in the same black dust as the upper body was.
It was reported in newspapers of the time that the woman was an alcoholic and an extremely ardent one at that, which had been attributed as a possible source to spontaneous combustion. Oddly, no noise, smoke or lights had been witnessed at the time the woman burned to death, no other items of furniture in the room had any signs of burn marks or heat damage, and nor were there any sources of flame near the body! One of my favourite stories, undoubtedly, due to its particularly macabre, gruesome and unexplained nature!
Come and hear about all of these, and many more for yourselves on ParisLens Tours guided gruesome ghost walk, and let us scare you (almost) to death!!! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0(+33) 651 072 176 now to arrange your booking! The ghouls of Paris await, if you dare…
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