Catacombs of Paris

When you envisage Paris, a visit to its Catacombs is not the first thing that comes to mind. It is for this reason that it makes for a unique experience worth considering if you have some time up your sleeve.

Be blown away by this fascinating underground ossuary which preserves the remains of about 6 million and is the largest necropolis in the world.

Known colloquially as the ‘bones museum’ (ossuary), with its official name in French "l'ossuaire municipal”, this cemetery covers only a small section of the underground tunnels which includes "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"). However, Parisians today often refer to the entire network of tunnels as "the Catacombs".


Reaching the Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs are located south of the former city gate (the "Barrière d'Enfer", the current Denfert-Rochereau square). Tickets can be purchased online or at the entrance or pre-arranged by your lovely travel consultant assigned to you when you travel with us. 

Once you enter you will descend to underground Paris and back in time winding up in a cemetery built among the many underground alleys that form almost a labyrinth. The Catacombs of Paris occupies part of the caves and galleries of an ancient quarry with a total length of about 285 km. But don’t worry, you’ll only be able to visit a few kilometers of those.


The Mystery of Underground Paris

When we think of being underground a city we think of modern subways, it is quite unusual to think of an ancient quarry this deep and expansive. In fact, you could say that this is one of the most mysterious attractions to see in the French capital.

This is because Paris is widely known as the Ville Lumière, the city of lights. Yet few people know that 20 meters under the streets of the city, there is another side of Paris with a stark contrast. The famous French writer Victor Hugo also talks about it in his historical novel Les Misérables, telling of an underground city made of tunnels and ancient passages in which various characters from the book find refuge.

Also known as the "empire of the dead", the Paris Catacombs contain the remains of about six million people neatly stacked and divided according to the anatomical shape, who were buried here following the closure of the Parisian cemeteries. Both common people and famous men and women of their time were buried here, people who have marked the history of this city such as Madame de Pompadour, lover of Louis XV, the writer Charles Perrault and various famous victims of the guillotine such as Georges Jacques Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Maximilien de Robespierre.

This one-of-a-kind place tells the story of Paris and invites visitors to take a journey back in time.


How the Catacombs came to be

The history of the Catacombs dates back to its origins as galleries of limestone quarries that were used to build most of the buildings and monuments which can be visited today on the surface.

Then in the eighteenth century, to cope with the spread of epidemics caused by the saturation of some cemeteries, the Council of State decided to move the remains of people. The first remains came from the cimetière des Saints-Innocents, which at the time was the main Parisian cemetery. Starting from 1786, the bones preserved in the mass graves were transferred and arranged in these underground quarries.

Finally in 1809 it was ready to be opened to the public. Initially created as a deposit of bones,  the Catacombs aroused much curiosity, seeing it become a small-scale tourist attraction in 1874. Sadly it had to close for a brief period in 2009 due to vandalism, but other than that it has been drawing in tourists since the nineteenth century.

Now with the passage of time and the creation of a macabre-romantic decoration, these quarries have become a very suggestive place. It might not be a sight for everyone or top of your bucket list in Paris. But if you are up for it, we recommend this enlightening (not literally, of course) experience of what lies beneath the surface of this dazzling city. 

Let our France travel experts guide you on the best things to see and do in Paris and ensure you make the most of your time there with prebooked tours and excursions such as this. Get in touch about your Paris vacation today. Or explore this customizable package including Paris. 


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