The Paris Catacombs are a vast underground network of tunnels containing a treasury of ossuaries and a collection of human remains going back to the 18th century. One of the top attractions in Paris may be seen under the city’s streets. It takes a strong heart to explore the catacombs, the ultimate resting place of six million Parisians.
The Catacombs of Paris are one of the few tourist attractions in Paris that legitimately excite people’s macabre enthusiasm. There are about a mile and a half of tunnels exposed to the public; they were dug out of limestone and are lined with the bones of about six million people. Quite surprisingly, this only accounts for a small percentage of the whole system.
Human femurs, skulls, and other bones are stacked in an unusually organized setting, orderly displays in the catacombs, a nameless memorial to millions of unknown, buried Parisians and recounted by poetry and words about death. Surely the French can make even the most mundane thing seem profound and artistic.
In spite of how neatly the anonymous skulls and bones are arranged, they touch a strong taboo nerve. There are ossuaries in the Paris Catacombs, and a placard explains that the bones shown there were dug out from the Cimetière des Innocents in 1809.
The ossuaries reflect both our fear of death and our interest in the practical aspects of how different cultures deal with the afterlife. Given that Westerners don’t have to deal with mortality very often, it seems reasonable that it’s buried away. Not unlike the old Greek underworld of Hades, where nightmares lived.
An Introduction of Catacombs of Paris + Address & Timings
The Catacombs of Paris, constructed at the end of the 18th century, may seem and feel quaintly antiquated to modern ears. On the other hand, they are the product of today’s more sanitary and efficient methods of dealing with the dead. In addition to being a uniquely contemporary occurrence, the rise of the tourist business in the nineteenth century is also responsible for the almost lyrical way in which these sites have been organized into a museum.
Continue reading to get our entire list of suggestions for making the most of your time in the catacombs of Paris, as well as information on the history and architecture of this fascinating location.
- Address: 1 Av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France.
- Tuesday to Sunday from 9:45 AM to 8:30 PM.
- Closed on Mondays.
The history of the Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris may be traced back to the late eighteenth century when a decision was made to move the city’s cemeteries’ contents underground due to public health concerns.
The Parisian government decided on the old Tombe-Issoire quarries under the plain of Montrouge because of its convenient location and proximity to the city while being outside of Paris at the time. These quarries were a minor section of the labyrinth that stretched beneath the city for over 800 hectares, and they had been in use since at least the fourteenth century until they were abandoned.
Between 1785 and 1787, the greatest Parisian cemetery, Saints-Innocents, was evacuated; it had been closed the year before, in 1780, after being in continuous use for over a millennium. Bones were removed from tombs, common graves, and the charnel house and secretly transferred at night to escape the wrath of Parisians and the Church.
Workers at the quarry dropped the skeletons into two wells and then stacked them into the galleries. Until the closure of parochial cemeteries like Saint-Eustache, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, and the Bernardins Convent in the heart of Paris in 1814, movements continued until the French Revolution.
They restarted in 1840, during Louis-urban Philippe’s renewal, and continued until the Haussmannian reorganization of the city in 1859 and 1860. On April 7, 1786, the area was named the “Paris Municipal Ossuary,” but it was soon called the mythological “Catacombs” in honor of the ancient Roman catacombs that had captivated the world ever since they were discovered.
The Catacombs began accepting visitors on a reservation basis in 1809. The tour concluded with a register for guests to write their opinions. The popularity of these excursions among both the French and the international community led to their fast filling. Over time, the ossuary became the last resting place of many notable people.
Visiting the Catacombs of Paris
Above the earth, in Place Denfert-Rochereau, is where your adventure into the Paris Catacombs begins. The entrance to the location is marked by a tiny green pavilion. Lines for the catacombs sometimes stretch around the plaza since only 200 people are allowed inside at once. After entering via the main entrance, you’ll need to take 130 stairs down to the tunnels, which are located 65 feet below the surface of the ground.
About 15 minutes of walking time will bring you to the ossuary’s main entrance, where the bones are kept. There is a massive statue of Port-fortification Mahon at the end of the lengthy limestone tunnel. When these tunnels were first dug, they were used for mining, but someone carved this amazing artwork straight into the limestone.
When you reach the main section of the ossuary, you’ll see a stone inscription that reads, “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort” (Stop! This is where death rules). The realm of the departed is here. There are bone walls that go all the way to the ceiling and rows of skulls that poke through the long bones.
The bone arrangement on several of the skulls is rather beautiful. One wall prominently displays a “heart” design made entirely out of human skulls. The whole route is a little under two miles long, and it ends in an 83-step climb back to ground level. A typical visit to the Catacombs of Paris place will take around 45 minutes.
Some fascinating facts about the Catacombs of Paris
1. If you suffer from claustrophobia (the dread of enclosed places), necrophobia (the fear of dead bodies), or have any other serious health concerns, you may want to rethink your plans to visit this location.
2. The catacombs’ great depth makes complete exploration impossible. Many parts of it are difficult to reach and need special permission to enter. The Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary is the only publicly accessible section of the larger catacomb system.
However, there is a group of people who name themselves “cataphiles” because they like visiting catacombs. Sometimes they even go so far as to investigate areas that are closed to the general public, and they will take food and drinks to help them survive for several days. Bear in mind that you shouldn’t go exploring in that area since it’s dangerous.
3. It took 15–18 months to relocate over 2 million bodies from the Les Innocents cemetery. After this, graves from other cemeteries began to be relocated to the quarries. After this, the French Revolution (1789-1799) started, and more people were killed.
As late as 1814, it was not uncommon for the quarries to be used for the transportation of corpses. However, the transfers stopped between 1814 and 1840 because of resistance to the movement. Then they continued until 1860 when the last remnants were moved.
4. This may be one of the fascinating facts about the Paris catacombs. The Catacombs under the French capital served as a safe place for the French Resistance during World War II, when Germany occupied France, thanks to the extensive network of subterranean tunnels and secret passages.
The Catacombs were used as hiding places by more than only the French Resistance. Bunkers built by the Germans there prove they were also utilized by the Germans. It was eventually found that the tents on the two sides were not all that far apart.
Final words about the Catacombs of Paris
Perhaps the most unexpected tourist attraction in the City of Light is hidden 65 feet below the city’s busy streets. The Catacombs de Paris include the skeletal remains of more than six million Parisians. Limestone used in the construction of the city was mined from these tunnels beginning in the 13th century. Make sure to visit this amazing place on your trip to the beautiful city of Paris as it adds extra weirdness to your memory of the flawless city of Paris, and it is one of the city’s best attractions.