Paris Catacombs, pictures and detailed information

Catacombs of Paris

Catacombs of Paris is a must for thrill-seekers and those who have already satiated with the romantic atmosphere of Montmartre and Champs Elysees. The intricate network of underground tunnels, whose total length according to various sources ranges from 187 to 300 kilometers, has an inexpressible infernal flavor and appeal.

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Video: Catacombs of Paris

The story of one cave-in

The reason for the origin of the Paris catacombs is quite prosaic. The gloomy labyrinths are abandoned quarries, which in the late 10th century were the main suppliers of limestone for churches and royal palaces. Initially the mines were outside the city, but by the mid-18th century Paris had decisively overstepped its own borders, leaving the Rue Saint Jacques, the suburbs of Saint Victor and Saint Germain de Pré in a precarious position: the suburbs were literally hanging over an abyss.

Already in 1774 part of the houses on Rue Denfer fell underground with its inhabitants. The cause of the disaster was a collapse in one of the drifts. Not wishing to repeat the fate of his hapless subjects in the future, Louis XVI hastily issued a decree on the creation of the General Inspectorate of Quarries. What is interesting is that this organization, whose job is to reinforce the most dangerous sections of the mines, still exists to this day.

From the mine to the ossuary

Guidebooks often describe the catacombs of Paris as a “chamber of fear” filled with skulls and skeletal fragments. Visiting this place one is drawn to think about the “frailty of existence,” to indulge in grief and to ask eternal philosophical questions. However, the underground tunnels became a receptacle for human remains only at the end of the XVIII century, after a mishap that occurred in the Cemetery of the Innocents.

Traditionally, the dead in Paris were buried on land belonging to the church, that is, within the city. Countless corpses were brought to the cemeteries and waited their turn for burial, sometimes for several weeks. The residents of the houses adjacent to the cemetery of the Innocents in 1780 were especially “happy”: the wall separating the necropolis from the residential neighborhood collapsed, filling the basements of the dwellings with decomposing bodies. Spurred on by the wrath of Parisians, the authorities set about clearing the city’s cemeteries by organizing the transfer of the remains to the catacombs. The work lasted nearly 15 months.

1858 plan of the catacombs Map of the former underground exploitation mine in Paris (1908)

The Empire of Death

The Paris catacombs are not just a network of boring corridors. It is an underground museum with its strange, but nevertheless interesting exhibits. Stone wells, architectural bas-reliefs and unpretentious drawings scribbled in the thickness of limestone by former quarry workers, keep their own, sometimes quite sinister stories.

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Corridors of Bones The ossuary of the Paris catacombs

The final stage of the walk through the catacombs of Paris is a visit to the ossuary. The ossuary is a truly infernal spectacle. The neat stacks of tibia bones and skulls can inflict primal horror even on fans of horror. Originally, fragments of skeletons transferred here from Parisian cemeteries were simply dumped haphazardly. It wasn’t until 1810 that members of the Inspectorate-General decided to put the crypt in order. Thus appeared a wall of bones length of 780 meters. To enhance the gloomy effect, the underground hangs tablets with philosophical sayings reminding of the transience of earthly life. It is in the ossuary that the remains of Nicolas Fouquet, François Rabelais, Charles Perrault, Pascal Blaise and Robespierre rest.

In recent years, the gloomy beauty of the catacombs has suffered greatly from the destructive effects of groundwater. Since 1980, their level has been gradually rising. Water floods the drifts of the quarries and erodes the system of anchors, contributing to the collapse of the tunnels. Scientists do not exclude that over time, the “underground Paris” may disappear entirely. But meanwhile, every tourist has an opportunity to walk through the dark corridors of limestone mines and enjoy their mystical atmosphere. Who knows, maybe in a few years an unusual site will remain only in amateur photographs and in the memory of those who had time to look into the “womb of Paris” before its disappearance …

Tips for tourists and rules for visiting the catacombs of Paris

This sign indicates the place of your location in the catacombs of Paris with reference to the object on the surface (so you can navigate). Above this sign there used to be an aqueduct near the Charité Hospice.

The Paris Catacombs are open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last reception no later than 4 p.m. Despite the mystical and gloomy atmosphere, the catacombs are visited by about 160 thousand people a year. Accordingly, you will have to accept the fact that the long lines to the attractions – a common and unavoidable phenomenon. However, if you come to the pavilion a couple of hours before its opening, there is a chance to get acquainted with the mysteries of the Parisian underground without wasting time on a long wait.

Visiting the underground tunnels is a serious test for the nervous system, so the descent into the quarries alone is strictly prohibited. Participation in this event is not recommended to people who have heart disease and respiratory problems, as well as children and overly impressionable individuals. However, officially tourists under the age of 14 are entitled to visit the site for free.

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Tombs and Graves Passage with arches

Descent into the mines is carried out by a spiral staircase that goes to a depth of about 20 meters. The pavilion staff is careful to ensure that the number of visitors in the catacombs does not exceed 200 people at a time, which partly explains why there are queues. Given that the temperature in the tunnels is kept under 14 degrees, it makes sense to dress warmer. But do not take extra things with you: there are no checkrooms, elevators and toilets in the underground. During the tour amateur photography is allowed (without the use of professional photo equipment).

When descending into a labyrinth, a rare novice does not wonder, “Is it possible to get lost here?” Today, there is no danger of getting lost, since most of the branches and passages are fenced off. However, any self-respecting guide will not miss the opportunity to tell tourists the heartbreaking story of the church keeper Philibert Asper, who went for a walk in the catacombs of Paris and was found by his countrymen 11 years later as a perfectly preserved mummy. And, of course, no tour can do without the traditional urban legends associated with the descent into the quarries.

Interesting fact: during the Second World War there was a secret bunker of the German army in the catacombs, and during the Cold War there were created bomb shelters where Parisians had to hide in case of a nuclear attack.

Descending into the Graffiti Dungeon in the far-flung sections of the catacombs

How to get there

Today, about 2 kilometers of underground labyrinths are open to the public. This is only a small and relatively safe part of the entire area of the catacombs of Paris. The entrance to the tunnels is located in the 14th District, at Place Denfert-Rochereau. To join the lucky ones who have the guts to go down into the City of Darkness, you need to buy a ticket on the subway (line 4, 6) and take a ride to the Denfert-Rochereau station. Those who prefer to admire the views of the European capital during the trip can do the same route by bus (lines 38, 68).

The place of descent into the Parisian catacombs is near the exit of the metro station. To find the modest pavilion, navigate by the sculptural figure of a lion by F. Bartholdi. The exact address is 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy.

Top 10: Frightening facts about Paris catacombs

Cemeteries. There is something about them that makes the hair on your head begin to move, and for many of us, cemeteries are some of the creepiest and most forbidden places on the planet. What could be scarier than a regular cemetery? What would you say about the one that contains the remains of millions of Parisians and is located right below the capital of France? Yes, that’s right.

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For a city known for its love of fashion, romance and culture, Paris certainly hides a dark secret under its streets. These little-known facts about the vast catacombs of Paris will leave you utterly baffled.

10. The remains of more than six million Parisians are preserved here

In the 18th century, the cemeteries of the ever-growing city of Paris lacked space. As if that weren’t enough, some bodies weren’t buried properly and caused disease to spread. Eventually, Parisian officials decided to ban cemeteries from the city limits and move the remains that were there to another location.

Officials turned their attention to several underground quarries in the city. Between the 1780s and 1814, authorities were able to arrange for the transport underground of more than six million bodies collected from all the cemeteries that existed in Paris, transporting the dead with carts and placing them in their final resting place.

9. They are bigger than you think.

Photo: Deror Avi

While the remains of six million people are scattered throughout the tunnels, most of them have been put into burial chambers known as ossuaries, where tours are often held. The point is that there are more tunnels in the catacombs. They were made by Parisian miners working in the quarry before some of the catacombs were used as a cemetery.

Although about 320 kilometers of tunnels are thought to exist, not all of them have been mapped, and the rest remain uncharted territory. This makes one wonder what else might be lurking in these tunnels.

8. Roamers have turned the catacombs into a secret bathing spot

Photo: Messy Nessy Chic

Apparently, the idea of going to the local pool (or going to a friend who has a pool) isn’t satisfying enough for some people. Instead, they embark on a journey into the depths of the catacombs to refresh themselves in some secret, undiscovered body of water that has become known among other catacomb enthusiasts as makeshift pools.

Of course, you’ll need connections to get there. They say you’ll also have to wade through murky waters and tunnels where you might get claustrophobic before you get to the “oasis,” which in this case is a pit of water located in a giant underground cemetery.

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7. Unknown groups do strange things here

In 2004, police conducting a drill in the catacombs stumbled upon something completely unexpected. While exploring a remote area of the vast tunnel system, they discovered a giant fully equipped movie theater with a screen, everything they needed, a restaurant and a bar, with professionally installed phone lines and power lines. Even creepier was the fact that a hidden camera was taking pictures of the cops as they entered the hall.

No one knows who did it, but a note was left at the scene that said, “Don’t try to find us.” It’s probably not the best decoration for a movie theater and restaurant, but that space can be put to good use, too, right?

6. Corpse Flow

The most popular place in Paris where the dead were buried (before they decided to use catacombs for this purpose) was Les Innocents, the oldest and most frequently used city cemetery. However, there was one problem with it: as mentioned above, by the beginning of the XVIII century, so many people were buried there that it overflowed. People who lived in the neighborhood began to complain about the pungent smell of decay that spread throughout the city.

To say “was overcrowded” is an understatement, because when the cemetery flooded as a result of the flood, bodies began to rise from the ground to the surface. During the 1780s, people began exhuming bodies from all the old cemeteries and burying them there in what we now call catacombs, and the rest is history.

5. Cataphiles create communities inside the tunnels

Photo: Claire Narkissos

Cataphiles are a group of urban explorers who tend to spend huge amounts of time in the depths of catacombs for their own pleasure and quest for adventure. Although their name may sound like that of a modern cult, they have a deep respect for both the dead and the tunnels and create maps to keep people from getting lost in the vast necropolis.

They are insiders, and information on how to access the catacombs is kept within a close-knit group. Cataphiles have been building their own community inside the old quarries and tunnels for years. Some paint pictures here, decorate rooms, or have parties with other tunnel dwellers, and some visit them just to take a break from the outside world.

4. Once upon a time, vintage wine was stolen here.

It turns out that in addition to bones, decay and death, there’s also some pretty good wine in the depths of the catacombs. At least that’s what happened in 2017.

A gang of French thieves drilled through the limestone walls of the catacombs and broke into a nearby vault, which was under the apartment and contained about 300 bottles of vintage wine. The thieves escaped, taking all the wine worth €250,000.

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3. Bones assembled in “decorative displays”

Photo: Shadowgate

When the bones of the dead were first carted to the catacombs in the 1780s, they were simply left in the tunnels (after the priest said a prayer that the dead would rest in peace). Workers began stacking old bones into shapes and compositions such as hearts and circles, and lined the walls with skulls and various other gruesome remains.

One of the most iconic compositions is known as the Barrel. It consists of a large circular pole surrounded by skulls and tibia bones and serves as a simultaneous support for the ceiling of the room where it is located, which is called the Crypt of Passion or the Rotunda of the Big Tibia. The barrel is a little more repulsive than the traditional support, but if it serves its function, there is no question.

2. Farmers began using catacombs to grow mushrooms Photo: Messy Nessy Chic

This practice began in the 19th century, when a Parisian named Monsieur Chambery (Monsieur Chambery) dared to go down into the tunnels and saw a scattering of wild mushrooms growing in the underground. He decided to use the abandoned tunnels to grow his own champignons de Paris (aka mushrooms), which was eventually accepted and approved by the Horticultural Society of Paris.

Soon farmers from everywhere began to flock here to establish their own farms. Growing mushrooms in the catacombs became a thriving business venture. In fact, if you know where to look, you can probably find some farmers still growing soul mushrooms there. It makes sense, considering the darkness and humidity that reigns there. Who knows, maybe the old bones lying around also served as some sort of fertilizer for the mushrooms.

1. During World War II, the catacombs were used by both sides Photo: 28DaysLater.co.uk

Since the existence of catacombs was common knowledge during World War II, and on top of that they extend many miles underground, it’s no surprise that they were used during the fighting. What may surprise you is that they were used by both sides.

Members of the French Resistance actively used the underground tunnel system during the war to hide and plan attacks against the Germans. The catacombs guaranteed that they would not be spotted by German spies or discovered by the enemy.

What is even more shocking is that the Nazis were also present in the catacombs and built various bunkers (for example, one under Lycee Montaigne High School). The remains of this bunker can still be seen today.

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