We are not great fans of spooky places but after browsing through the pictures of the Paris Catacombs on the internet we were very much intrigued to visit the place and see it for ourselves. We had already explored much of Paris and were looking for more something ancient and different. We had already missed Catacombs in Rome on a visit to Rome and Vatican City so catacombs of Paris fell on the list. If it’s your first visit to Paris read on Paris for first-timers to cover the key attractions of the beautiful ‘City of Love’.
The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris which are believed to hold the remains of over six million people. The labyrinth beneath the city of Paris are the former limestone quarries whose stone was used to build the city today from the Catacombs.
The distance covered by the tour is around 2 km with an average tour duration of 45 minutes.
Roman Empires were the first to refer to a place of burial as Catacombs. The Paris catacombs derived the word originally used only by the Romans in the 18th century.
We had booked tickets online to avoid queues. We collected the audioguides and climbed down the 130 steps to an underground depth of 20 meters equivalent to a five-story building. All the water pipelines and the entire city was now above us. The catacombs have a constant temperature of around 14 deg celsius.
Walking through the Catacombs will walk you Forty-five million years back in time. Forty-five million years ago Paris and the surrounding area were covered by a shallow sea which caused the sediment accumulation forming the limestone deposits visible in the Catacombs today.
The limestone from these quarries were used to supply the stone required to build Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and city ramparts.
The empty areas of quarry left after digging the limestone are used to create the eighteenth-century ossuary which became the Paris Catacombs.
We walked through the passageways for around 1.5 km following the audio guide and soon we were at a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort” which translated to “Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”.
During the 18th century, the City’s principal cemetery “Saints Innocents” was already filled to overflowing. The air was contaminated to an extent that the milk would turn sour within seconds and a risk posed to the public health and of disease spreading to the people was foreseen. By late 18th century, it was decided to create new large-scale suburban burial grounds on the outskirts of the city and move all the buried to the outer limits.
At the same time, the Paris annexed its suburbs to include the previously mined territories which resulted in a series of mine cave-ins.
The mine renovation and cemetery closures were both issues within the jurisdiction of the Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir whose idea it was to move the Parisian dead to the newly renovated underground passageways.
Several night processions of black cloth-covered wagons carrying the millions of Parisian dead transferred unearthed remains from cemeteries to the tunnels. It took almost 2 years to transfer bones from “Saints Innocents” cemetery and few more years to transfer of bones from other Parisian parish graveyards to the Catacombs.
The underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century and has been open to the public on a regular basis since 1874 with surface access from a building at Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris.
We walked through the long dark maze of tunnels, chambers, and halls with carefully and artistically arranged bones.
Along the way, one would find other monuments, tombstones and lots of inscriptions of historical events.
There are also gates blocking passages leading to other unrenovated and unvisitable parts of the catacombs closed to the tourists and the regular tours.
Catacombs are not only in Paris but in various cities all over the world. Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Egypt, London, Greece, and Spain are few to name.
Have you visited any of the catacombs? And if not are you thinking of a visit? Would you be interested? Let us know in comments.
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