You probably read the news coverage about the discovery of eight mass graves under a Monoprix store in Paris (Monoprix is very much like Target in the US). There is more to this story than that covered in most press accounts. But first a little recap:
Monoprix was remodeling this branch, specifically the lowest level of the basement. Management knew the store was built on the site of a former cemetery (that of Trinity Hospital) and had expected to find a few bones. The hospital operated from 1202 through the Middle Ages up to the French Revolution. They called in Inrap, France's Institute of Preventive Archeological Research. Their team began excavating 2 months ago and thus far have found 200 bodies in 8 graves. They have 2 more weeks to complete the excavation.
Cemeteries in medieval times were not orderly plots with caskets below and tombstones above like we have today. Most were common graves with a few individual burials of the high ranking dead. All of the cadavers merged underground in huge egalitarian pits filled in with bodies until they rose up to 3 meters above street level. These foul-smelling and disease-ridden mass graves produced a cadaverous stench that clung to churches and the surrounding area. No wonder churches had to use so much incense. Sometimes the basement walls of adjoining buildings collapsed with decomposing bodies tumbling out.
Finally, in 1786, the city began transferring the bones from cemeteries to the 300 meters of tunnels in underground quarries that had produced the limestone to build the city of Paris. The huge cemetery of the Innocent Saints was the first to be emptied and later the others were emptied as well. There are over 6 million bodies in these catacombs.
You can understand why the archeologists were surprised by finding so many bodies after they were supposed to have all been moved out centuries ago.
You don't notice much at street level when you walk by this Monoprix (located at rue Réaumur and Boulevard de Sébastopol). From the bus, however, you can see that it's a magnificent building.
It was constructed in 1912 for Féliz Potin who was a famous and innovative grocer in this era. He established set prices for his goods and posted them. He developed the concept of loss leaders where he sold some commodities like sugar and coffee at low prices and made up the profits on the sale of luxury items. He built his own factories for processing sugar, coffee, and chocolate. He canned and bottled products like jam, mustard and vegetables under his own brand. Potin was recognized and much appreciated for his critical social contribution during the Siege of Paris in 1870. Rather than profiteering on the sale of foodstuffs during the extreme shortages, he organized a rationing program and made food available in national cafeterias.
Check out the butcher department of the store. It looks more like a museum display than a meat counter.
This little plot of Paris at 95 Boulevard de Sébastopol is an amazing mille-feuille of history!