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Cataphiles are urban explorers who illegally tour the Mines of Paris, a term popularly used to describe a series of underground tunnels that were built as a network of stone mines, which are no longer used. The Catacombs of Paris comprise a subset of this network.
Entrance to the mines is restricted. The portion open to the public (the catacombs) is only a small part of an extensive network of underground tunnels, which spans around 280 kilometres (170 mi) in length. The tunnel system is complex, and though some tunnels have plaques indicating the name of the street above, it is easy to get lost. Some passages are low or narrow, and others are partially flooded. There are aging telephone wires, pipes, and other impediments that can hinder progress, and cave-ins, although rare, do occasionally occur. A good guide is indispensable, and many guides occasionally refer to a map. Because of these dangers, accessing the catacombs without official escort has been illegal since 2 November 1955. There is a €60 fine for people caught by the E.R.I.C - the special police who patrol the mines.
Secret entrances exist throughout Paris, and it is sometimes possible to enter the mines via the sewers, metro, and certain manholes.
Some unofficial visitors hold keys to certain official entrances. On rare occasions people use these access points and illegally enter the mines — for example, to meet clandestinely, to hold unusual parties, or simply as urban explorers.
Cataphiles often descend for a day, a night, or perhaps a week to explore, photograph, paint murals, create maps, clean up rooms, and dig chatières (ventilation channels).
In popular culture
Cataphiles (such as Renny MacLeod, who has tattooed the Catacombs of Paris on his body), cataflics, the underground movie theater, the disarticulated skeletons, and the Paris Catacombs' history of collapses and instability are major plot points in James Rollins' Sigma Force novel 6.5, The Skeleton Key (2010).
- Oved, Marco Chown. "The catacombs of Paris and a journey into the unknown". Radio France Internationale. Retrieved 2009-05-13.
- "La Mexicaine De Perforation". Urban-Resources. Urban-Resources. Retrieved 2006-06-16.
- "Mommy, what's a cataphile?". Secrets of the City of Light. Archived from the original on December 4, 2008. Retrieved 2009-09-18.
- Rollins, James (2010). "What's True, What's Not". The Skeleton Key. pp. 1–2.
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- (in English) Underground Virtual Visit