Visit the famous Catacombs of Paris to witness a nerve chilling labyrinth of tunnels under the ground in the heart of the city. The complex labyrinthine ossuary was set up years ago and continues to astound visitors today with its incredibly complex maze-like network that holds the mortal remains of millions of Parisians. If you are visiting Paris with the notion of pure romance in the air, you are in for a staggering surprise. Take a tour of the dimly lit tunnels of this Parisian ossuary called the Catacombs of Paris to witness a side of the city that is certainly not for the faint hearted. It is an underground space that houses over six million bones of the deceased after a heavy storm caused the walls of a local cemetery to collapse.
The Paris Catacombs, despite its horrific history and gruesome halls that are adorned with human skeletal remains, happens to be one of the most popular albeit unsettling places of attraction here. You can take an audio-guided tour of the macabre tunnels to learn all about its history and how the construction was done, as you move along the uneven, gravel paths.
The origins of the Paris Catacombs dates back to the late eighteenth century when a major catastrophic situation brought the city together to move its dead to an underground site. The groundwork was laid down in 1786 when King Louis XV passed a decree that banned the burial of the deceased in cemeteries within the city limits.
This was because the rise in population was making the city burst at the edges as it was not able to keep up with the rate of expansion. Cemeteries were beginning to get overcrowded and graves started becoming shallow. The surfaces started emanating the rotting smell of decomposing flesh as bio-fluids started oozing out of the ground. Things came to a critical juncture one night when a huge storm hit the city and incessant rainfall caused the land to collapse at the cemetery due to an overload of corpses. The dead bodies began to fall out and into the neighborhood areas when the big decision was taken to move the remains of the dead into the tunnels that ran below the streets of Paris. Overnight carts were loaded with millions of human bones and taken to the ossuary where they were stacked neatly for several kilometers, forming the Catacombs of Paris.
Location: 1, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau), 75014 Paris
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:45 AM to 8:30 PM The Catacombs of Paris are closed on Mondays and certain holidays including January 1, May 1, and December 25
This is a one way circuit that runs for a kilometer and a half and exit is at 21 bis, Avenue René-Coty.
This structure is located in an area at the center of all skulls and bones within the Catacombs Of Paris, known as the Crypt of Passion. The massive eerie barrel shape holds more bones and skeletons within it and was erected in 1897 when an illegal concert featuring Chopin’s Funeral March and the Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens in the middle of the night was being held here.
The underground world of the Catacombs of Paris has been brilliantly organised so that visitors can cross from the upper catacombs to the lower ones with the help of a support ramp. While at most parts, the quarry was dug out only at one level, there are certain areas where the quarrymen explored the area at two different levels
There were certain exhibits placed within the Catacombs of Paris, one of the most fascinating being the Citadel de Mahon carved out by Decure. A veteran of the French Army, he did the sculpting completely from memory of the actual structure. However, legend goes that he was killed within the very walls of these catacombs when he was trying to construct a stairway that would lead visitors to the exhibit.
When you are traversing through the tunnels comprising the Catacombs of Paris, you will reach a point where you will face a winding staircase that leads to a small well. This is considered to be the first-ever geological drilling that was done in Paris, intended at seeing the geological layers of the city. You will also see a back wall here with light shining on the words that mean ‘Foot Bath of the Quarrymen’.
This Museum is one of the most important places of tourist attractions and a great site to visit when you are at the Catacombs of Paris. The world’s largest museum, the Louvre is housed within the Louvre Palace on the banks of the Seine. Visit Louvre Museum not only for its awe-inspiring façade and architecture, but also for the impressive collections of Egyptian antiques, Roman antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Islamic art, paintings, prints, and its most famous exhibit, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo di Vinci.
Head to the renowned Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Luxembourg gardens after you visit Catacombs Paris, a complete contrast to its grimness. This is the garden of the French Senate and the second largest public park in Paris inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Take a stroll around the beautifully manicured park to soak in the local vibe and the cosmopolitan air of the city amid the lush greenery of the garden. You can also catch visitors here spending a relaxed evening playing chess and even bee keeping.
This iconic structure towering high into the Parisian sky, is in all likelihood, the prime symbol that defines the country. Your visit to the city of Paris may well remain incomplete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower and so head down to the Champ de Mars area after you see the Paris Catacombs. The 300 feet marvel also has an observation deck at one of its three levels where visitors are hosted. In the evenings, the glittering light show here is an absolute marvel and one you must not miss.
Constructed in the mid-thirteenth century, Sainte Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX with the sole purpose of storing his collection of relics. These include important antiquities from the last days of Jesus Christ until his crucifixion, including the Christ’s Crown of Thorns that was later hosted by the Notre Dame Cathedral. You can also see in this classic Gothic structure, one of the most enviable stained glass collections in the world.
Visit the most famous religious landmarks of the city after you have seen the renowned Catacombs of Paris. Constructed by the French colonists in the late 1800s. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a classic example of Romanesque architectural features. Its distinctive red façade along with twin bell towers, stained glass windows, and a tall statue of the Virgin Mary in front, makes it stand out. It is one of this city’s most visited and beloved landmarks not only for its holy sanctity but for its symbolic importance.
Situated calmly by the banks of the River Seine, the Musee d’Orsay houses an enviable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collective art. The exquisite architecture of the building is in itself a sight to behold apart from hosting the works of famous artists including Renoir, Dali, Monet, Cézanne, Gaugin, and Van Gogh to name a few. You can witness decorative arts, sculptures, and architectural structures among its collection including several classic pieces like The Artist's Studio, Self Portrait, Starry Night over the Rhone, and Whistler's Mother, among several others.
No, you cannot touch the bones in the Paris Catacombs. This is to ensure the preservation of this ancient site which houses the delicate remnants of thousands of Parisians in the form of bones, skulls, and skeletons.
Yes, you can visit the Catacombs of Paris alone, but can venture only into certain parts of it that are open to the general public. The rest of the area is closed and visitors are not allowed in these parts. Children below the age of 14 cannot visit alone and need to be accompanied by an adult. You can take a self-guided tour to find your way around. However, since the interiors are dank and dreary, it is best to travel with someone.
There are audio guides you can borrow from the staff here that you can use. It will guide you along the way as well as tell you about the history of how it was constructed
Yes, you can take pictures inside the Catacombs of Paris although you are not allowed to touch the ancient remains that are housed here. Most parts of the catacomb are very dimly lit and thus you may need to use a flash when clicking pictures.
The average time it takes to go through the Catacombs of Paris independently is about one hour. The walking route stretches around 2 km and consists of almost 130 stairs to descend into it.
The Catacombs of Paris look extremely grim and sinister for their very location deep underground. Moreover, most of the tunnels are very dimly lit and there have been cases where people have lost their way touring the tunnels. All these coupled with the fact that the ossuary houses millions of bones of the dead, give the catacombs a haunted vibe.
The Catacombs of Paris were built during the years between 1787 and 1814 after the then Saints-Innocents cemetery was closed. It took the Parisians almost 12 years to transfer all the remains of the dead into the ossuaries.
The best time to visit the Catacombs of Paris is during the early morning in order to avoid long queues. The catacombs allow a maximum of 200 visitors within it at a time.