A visit to the Catacombs of Paris – The Empire of the Dead!

(Last Updated On: September 16, 2017)

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.

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris

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.

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris

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 “ArrΓͺte! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort” which translated to “Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”.

Catacombs of Paris

Background
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.

Catacombs of Paris

We walked through the long dark maze of tunnels, chambers, and halls with carefully and artistically arranged bones.

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris

Along the way, one would find other monuments, tombstones and lots of inscriptions of historical events.

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris

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 fewΒ 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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36 thoughts on “A visit to the Catacombs of Paris – The Empire of the Dead!

  • May 23, 2016 at 6:52 pm
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    I have been down the catacombs in Paris, it was a friend’s birthday and we made an illegal visit during the night, it is a eerie but fascinating place.

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 8:53 am
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      Woah.. That sounds exciting.. Birthday amidst the dead… πŸ˜‰

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  • May 24, 2016 at 4:25 pm
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    oh dear! That looks like such an eerie place! I love ghost-tours and graveyard walks, but I’m not very very keen about going underground. Not very sure I’ll love this experience! Great job sticking it out though – you look quite happy! HA πŸ™‚

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 8:57 am
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      πŸ™‚ We would say the history was so interesting that we got completely absorbed into the audio guide that may be reason you can find us happy and not worried lol

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  • May 24, 2016 at 4:48 pm
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    I adore Paris, but I admit this is one site that I have not seen. Thanks for sharing your photos and experience. I am still not sure that I would add this to my to do list for next Paris visit. The history is fascinating… so maybe.

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 8:58 am
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      Yeah True.. It isnt a place everyone would want to add to must do list πŸ™‚ Agree history may be a reason to check it out.

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  • May 25, 2016 at 2:42 am
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    Wow those pictures are quite impressive! Never seen so many skulls at once! Kinda scary! It’s the first blog I got to read about this type of activities and I think I would like to visit one as well ! Great post!

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 8:59 am
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      Thanks Tina.. Though Its spooky you would want to visit it to experience the history πŸ™‚

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  • May 25, 2016 at 8:22 pm
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    I live in Paris, and I’ve never been! Being a tourist in my own city is a thing I regularly do, but I’ve never been to the catacombs! I know the story, but I’ve learnt a bit while reading your article! The photos are so cool, and it’s really spooky!

    http://tomboychronicle.com/

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 9:00 am
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      Agree Liana Its Spooky indeed πŸ™‚

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  • May 26, 2016 at 9:51 pm
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    I’ve never been to Paris, or France in general, but if there’s one think I’d like to see there – it’s the catacombs πŸ™‚
    Lovely post πŸ™‚

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    • mm
      May 27, 2016 at 9:01 am
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      That’s good to know Teky that you would like to visit them.. πŸ™‚ There’s someone who thinks alike πŸ˜‰

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  • May 27, 2016 at 8:06 pm
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    Indeed, spooky! It reminds me of the last scene in Chang-Rae Lee’s “The Surrendered” where the two main characters visited a church adorned with human skulls.

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    • mm
      May 29, 2016 at 8:35 am
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      Am yet to check out that movie Jona, will surely do πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • May 28, 2016 at 6:30 am
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    Very Very spooky. Reminds me of the stories some of my traveler friends had told me about the Killing Fields museum in Phnom Penh.
    I liked the way you’ve provided the detailed background story to this place.

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    • mm
      May 29, 2016 at 8:34 am
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      Thanks Tamshuk. I have read those stories of Killing fields but in this case the Catacombs isnt where these people died they remains were moved from some other place.

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  • May 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm
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    Ooh, these photos are so delightfully creepy! I went to the catacombs when I was in Paris as a child, but I haven’t been back since. I hope to go there again soon!

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    • mm
      May 29, 2016 at 8:32 am
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      Ahh you are courageous Stella we may not have dared as a child πŸ™‚

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  • May 28, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    This is extremely horrifying and scary. It totally reminds me of the killing field. I wonder what is the smell of the place? does it have an awful odour?

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    • mm
      May 29, 2016 at 8:31 am
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      Nope Bernard isnt awful smell nor did we find it scary just an interesting history πŸ™‚

      Reply
  • May 29, 2016 at 3:47 pm
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    Woah, so haunting…. I loved reading all the history here. In Rome I visited the catacombs and found it very heartbreaking to hear how due to religious differences, they had to keep it secret and be buried there in secret, otherwise they would be cremated.

    Reply
    • mm
      May 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm
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      Thanks Sarah. We had tried visiting the one in Rome too but looks like they do the booking months in advance so could not make it.

      Reply
  • May 29, 2016 at 9:18 pm
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    Oh dear god, that was scary! Kudos for actually going! Catacombs have always scared me. Although, I’d love to explore Paris one day, just not under it, lol.

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  • May 29, 2016 at 10:13 pm
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    Oh dear. I would be so afraid to go there! And I would have intense claustrophobia issues! Well done you!

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  • May 30, 2016 at 3:26 pm
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    This is really spooky, I don’t know if I would feel comfortable in such a closed space together with all those skulls. Actually I have visited a mausoleum in Romania that had a room covered with skulls of the people that died on that battlefield. I was a kid in a school trip and I remember how scary that was. I know that London also has some underground Dungeons, but I never visited.

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  • May 30, 2016 at 7:58 pm
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    I would love to visit Paris, but I have to admit that visiting the catacombs wouldn’t be top of my list of things to do!

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  • May 30, 2016 at 8:38 pm
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    Gosh, this is just so cool. It’s amazing that people built these vast catacombs. I need to see them for myself one day.

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  • May 30, 2016 at 9:32 pm
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    I don’t think I could visit because I am claustrophobic and this would freak me out but I do love history so I can just admire it from afar.

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  • May 31, 2016 at 5:16 am
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    Oooo how interesting yet kinda creepy!!!! I would definitely love to visit and take a tour some day.

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  • May 31, 2016 at 7:36 am
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    A very interesting place, but not for everyone. I don’t know if I can do this. I admire your courage! πŸ™‚
    Thanks for sharing your photos and experience with all of us! Happy Tuesday guys!

    Reply
  • May 31, 2016 at 10:23 am
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    This place looks really fascinating. I love historical places like this. They are so interesting and your photos are incredible.

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  • May 31, 2016 at 4:51 pm
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    I have read about the catacombs in boos and I always thouht it would be intriguing to visit. Those photos look creepy but I am willing to try to go there if given the chance

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  • June 1, 2016 at 7:16 am
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    I got chills by looking at your pictures! really fascinating but im afraid I would never ever dare to visit such a place ! Incredible photos , you are very talented

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  • June 1, 2016 at 1:44 pm
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    Wow I cannot get over the skulls. Something about this place is breathtaking in a creepy. I would love to visit it, despite being afraid of the dark LOL

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  • June 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm
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    I didn’t even know that there are catacombs and for such a long way 2km! Those photos give a great idea how it is down there. I’m definitely interested in going there:)

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  • November 9, 2016 at 5:12 am
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    Oh! Missed this! The history behind this is mindblowing.
    It is different from the one I saw in Evora, Portugal!
    Hats off to you for your courage to pose with the skulls. πŸ™‚

    Reply

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