Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Real Underground Cinema

Jon Henley in Paris
Wednesday September 8, 2004
The Guardian

Police in Paris have discovered a fully equipped cinema-cum-
restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern underneath the
capital's chic 16th arrondissement.

Officers admit they are at a loss to know who built or used one of
Paris's most intriguing recent discoveries.

"We have no idea whatsoever," a police spokesman said.

"There were two swastikas painted on the ceiling, but also celtic
crosses and several stars of David, so we don't think it's
extremists. Some sect or secret society, maybe. There are any number
of possibilities."

Members of the force's sports squad, responsible - among other tasks -
 for policing the 170 miles of tunnels, caves, galleries and
catacombs that underlie large parts of Paris, stumbled on the complex
while on a training exercise beneath the Palais de Chaillot, across
the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

After entering the network through a drain next to the Trocadero, the
officers came across a tarpaulin marked: Building site, No access.

Behind that, a tunnel held a desk and a closed-circuit TV camera set
to automatically record images of anyone passing. The mechanism also
triggered a tape of dogs barking, "clearly designed to frighten
people off," the spokesman said.

Further along, the tunnel opened into a vast 400 sq metre cave some
18m underground, "like an underground amphitheatre, with terraces cut
into the rock and chairs".

There the police found a full-sized cinema screen, projection
equipment, and tapes of a wide variety of films, including 1950s film
noir classics and more recent thrillers. None of the films were
banned or even offensive, the spokesman said.
A smaller cave next door had been turned into an informal restaurant
and bar. "There were bottles of whisky and other spirits behind a
bar, tables and chairs, a pressure-cooker for making couscous," the
spokesman said.

"The whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity
system and there were at least three phone lines down there."

Three days later, when the police returned accompanied by experts
from the French electricity board to see where the power was coming
from, the phone and electricity lines had been cut and a note was
lying in the middle of the floor: "Do not," it said, "try to find

The miles of tunnels and catacombs underlying Paris are essentially
former quarries, dating from Roman times, from which much of the
stone was dug to build the city.

Today, visitors can take guided tours around a tightly restricted
section, Les Catacombes, where the remains of up to six million
Parisians were transferred from overcrowded cemeteries in the late

But since 1955, for security reasons, it has been an offence
to "penetrate into or circulate within" the rest of the network.

There exist, however, several secretive bands of so-called
cataphiles, who gain access to the tunnels mainly after dark, through
drains and ventilation shafts, and hold what in the popular
imagination have become drunken orgies but are, by all accounts,
innocent underground picnics.

The recent discovery of three newly enlarged tunnels underneath the
capital's high-security La Santé prison was put down to the
activities of one such group, and another, iden tifying itself as the
Perforating Mexicans, last night told French radio the subterranean
cinema was its work.

Patrick Alk, a photographer who has published a book on the urban
underground exploration movement and claims to be close to the group,
told RTL radio the cavern's discovery was "a shame, but not the end
of the world". There were "a dozen more where that one came from," he

"You guys have no idea what's down there."

I'm There!


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