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Visiting the Paris Catacombs was just never on my “Paris must see” list. Of course, now I wonder why on earth not?!
It was my son-in-law who organized our Paris Catacombs tour and I happily descended into the ossuary below Paris. What I didn’t realize was the amazing historical connections and stories that visiting the Paris Catacombs would reveal. It’s a fascinating plunge into Parisian history.
Here are your answers to 13 Frequently Asked Questions and 25 Interesting Facts I learned while visiting the Paris Catacombs.
13 FAQs: Visiting The Paris Catacombs
1. What Are The Paris Catacombs?
The Paris Catacombs are an underground labyrinth with over 321 kilometres/ 200 miles of tunnels serving as the final resting place for millions of souls. Originally created as a solution to the city’s overcrowded cemeteries in the late 18th century, the Catacombs of Paris have since evolved into an attraction that fascinates visitors from around the world.
2. How Many People Are Buried In the Paris Catacombs?
The Paris Catacombs contain several million skeletons of Parisians. It is one of the world’s largest ossuaries and one of only a few that are found underground.
3. Should I Take A Paris Catacombs Tour?
I highly recommend taking a guided tour because small group guided tours give special access to areas of the Paris Catacombs that are not available to the public. When visiting the Paris Catacombs on a tour, a guard comes and unlocks certain gates that your group can go behind. Visitors with the audioguides looked visibly disappointed to not be able to join. Of course, the added bonus of a Paris Catacombs tour is that the tour guides are full of anecdotes and stories that leave a lasting impression.
4. Should I Book A Paris Catacombs Ticket In Advance?
The Paris Catacombs are an extremely popular attraction. Only 200 visitors are allowed into the labyrinth of tunnels at a time so it is essential to book Paris Catacombs Skip the Line tickets in advance. Currently, it is not even possible to buy a ticket at the entrance when visiting the Paris Catacombs. Book Your Ticket HERE
5. What Are The Paris Catacombs Tickets Price?
Paris Catacombs entrance tickets cost 29€, audioguide included.
The children’s rate (age 5 – 17) is 10€, audioguide not included. Audioguides are 5€.
Please Note: Children under 14 years old must be accompanied by an adult.
6. What Are The Paris Catacombs Hours?
Tuesday to Sunday from 9:45 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; last entrance at 7:30 p.m.
Closed on Monday and these holiday dates: January 1, May 1, and December 25.
7. Visiting The Paris Catacombs: How Do I Get There?
The Paris Catacombs by Metro and RER-B: Denfert-Rochereau
The Paris Catacombs by Bus: #38 and 68
8. What Are The Paris Catacombs Entrance And Exit Addresses?
The entrance address for the Catacombs of Paris is at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguay (place Denfert-Rochereau), 75014 Paris
The exit address for the Paris Catacombs is 21 bis Avenue René-Coty 75014 Paris
9. Do I Need To Be Fit For Visiting The Paris Catacombs?
There are 131 steps down to access the Paris Catacombs and 112 to climb back up. There are no elevators, thus a certain level of active fitness is beneficial.
10. Are the Paris Catacombs Suitable For People with Claustrophobia?
Visiting the Paris Catacombs involves walking through dimly lit, narrow tunnels for a minimum of one hour. The underground passages were wider than I had expected but this environment might present challenges for some visitors.
11. Is The Paris Catacombs Wheelchair Accessible?
Unfortunately, the Paris Catacombs is not wheelchair accessible.
12. What Should I Wear To Visit The Paris Catacombs?
Climbing down and then back up the stairs, walking through tunnels that are moist, dimly lit, and in places slippery, it is imperative to wear proper footwear.
The temperature in the Catacombs of Paris remains constant at 57.2°F/ 14°C. Wear a sweater. It’s a bit chilly and damp but not uncomfortable.
13. Can I Take Photos When Visiting The Paris Catacombs?
When visiting the Paris Catacombs snap away! Yes, you are permitted to take photographs while in the Catacombes de Paris but no flashes are allowed.
25 Interesting Facts About The Catacombs of Paris
I had no idea I would learn so much about Paris’s past while visiting the Paris Catacombs. Here are my favourite facts about this legendary ossuary under Paris.
1. Ancient Limestone Quarries
The Paris Catacombs were ancient limestone quarries known as the Tombe-Issoire quarries. The limestone found underneath Paris was referred to as “Lutetian Limestone” or “Paris Limestone” and was used for building the city’s most famous buildings including the Louvre castle and Notre Dame Cathedral. Will you ever look at the Louvre in the same way?
2. The Catacombs We Visit Are Only A Fraction Of What’s There
Of the 321 km/ 200 miles of underground tunnels, only a small portion is open to the public. This is the Paris Catacombs that people line up to visit. It is also known as the “Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary.” When visiting the Paris Catacombs, you will notice locked gates that lead further afield.
3. The Tunnels Are A Mirror
Stop for a minute and consider that the 321 km/ 200 miles of tunnels reflect the Paris streets running above. Oh là là! The next time you are strolling along your favourite Paris street, pause and imagine the tunnel under your feet. It’s a mirror. Paris has an underground reflection!
4. Street Signs In The Paris Catacombs
It’s true. There are street signs in the Catacombs of Paris. It’s a good thing, considering there are 321 km/ 200 miles of dimly lit underground tunnels. You may even recognize some of the street names! Some of the street names are outdated demonstrating just how long these Paris catacombs have been around.
5. 5-Stories Below Ground
When you descend the 131 steps, you find yourself in the Paris Catacombs tunnels that are 65 feet/ 20 metres underground. This depth is equal to the height of a 5-story building. When visiting the Paris Catacombs, you are under Paris, 5-stories under Paris!
6. The Quarry Workers In Paris
It was a tough job being a quarry worker working long days with no sunlight. The lack of oxygen and the smoke from the candles used for lighting were hard on the men’s health and minds. Most men went home in the evening but some chose to stay in the tunnels, rarely seeing daylight or breathing fresh air. Some went mad.
It is said that any ghosts or spirits in the Paris Catacombs are not those belonging to the skeletons but those of the quarrymen who died underground.
7. The Citadel of Mahon In The Catacombs Of Paris
An unexpected sight when visiting the Paris Catacombs was a series of carvings in the limestone walls. According to our guide, a mysterious quarryman named Decoré was one of those men who stayed underground in the evenings. To while away the time, he carved. He created a rendition of the Citadel de Mahon working away by candlelight. He later died in the Catacombs. Is he one of the ghosts roaming around?
8. The Deep Well Found In The Paris Catacombs
Deep inside the Catacombs is a pool of water. Peer over the railing at the steep staircase leading down to the water’s edge. You’ll see an illuminated sign that reads, “Bain de pieds des carriers” meaning the “Footbath for the Quarrymen.” Just imagine the quarrymen heading down there by candlelight to wash their feet at night.
9. Moving The First 2 Million Skeletons
Around 1785 there were major health problems in Paris linked to the Paris cemeteries. A decision was made to empty out the largest central cemetery, la Cimetière des Innocents, in Paris and move the skeletons to the abandoned quarries. At the time, the site of the Catacombs was outside the city limits of Paris.
This Holy Innocents’ Cemetery which had closed in 1780 had been used for centuries, been the site of mass burials, and was basically a health hazard. Two million skeletons were moved to the Catacombs at night in funerary processions accompanied by priests. Our guide recounted that it took years to move all the skeletons to their new site.
On April 7, 1786, the subterranean burial site was consecrated as the Paris Municipal Ossuary. People fascinated by the Roman catacombs started referring to the ossuary in Paris as the Catacombs.
10. Several Million Souls Rest Here
After the bones from the Holy Innocents Cemetery were moved, authorities decided to continue the process. In the end, 17 cemeteries, and other convents and places of worship were added to the catacombs. Bones were collected and arranged in piles according to the cemetery from where they had been taken. Signs today still indicate the date of transfer and the location.
11. The French Nobility Were Fascinated By Visiting The Paris Catacombs
One of the earliest visitors to the Paris Catacombs was the Count of Artois, the future King Charles X. The Comte d’Artois was friends with Marie Antoinette and a bet between the two of them resulted in the Château in the Parc de Bagatelle being built in less than three months. He was a bit frivolous and it is no surprise he enjoyed visiting the Paris Catacombs. The Comte d’Artois was said to have visited the Catacombs of Paris in the company of a group of court ladies!
Other famous visitors to the Paris Catacombs included Francis I the Emperor of Austria in 1814 and Napoleon III with his son in 1860.
12. The Royal Gallery In The Paris Catacombs
With the French nobility visiting the Paris Catacombs, a Royal Gallery was created. This underground tunnel feels royal! It is easy to imagine ladies in their long gowns visiting the Paris Catacombs and sauntering up this incline under the archways.
13. Visiting The Paris Catacombs: 1809 Open To The Public
In 1809, the Paris Catacombs opened to the public by appointment only. At the Paris Municipal Ossuary, the bones of the displaced skeletons were originally dumped into piles according to the cemetery they had been taken from. Before being opened to the public, the French politician and engineer Louis-Etienne Héricat de Thury who was in charge of the maintenance of the catacombs decided to rearrange the skulls in an artistic fashion. The process began and took four years to complete. These arrangements are still visible today.
14. Skulls And Femurs: What’s Hiding Behind?
Upon visiting the Paris Catacombs, one notices the skulls, sometimes facing forward other times backwards, and lots of femurs. Where are all the other human bones that make up a skeleton? Behind what is visible to the visitor are several metres deep worth of bones such as vertebrae, jawbones, joints of fingers and toes, and ribs. What we observe in the Catacombs of Paris is just the tip of the iceberg of what is there. Pause on this thought.
15. “Arrête! C’est Ici l’Empire de la Mort.”
When visiting the Paris Catacombs, everyone enters the ossuary of Paris by passing under the entranceway marked by the quote “Arrête! C’est ici l’Empire de la Mort.” (Stop! This here is the Empire of Death). There is a noticeable pause in visitors’ steps before entering. It is sacred.
16. The Ultimate In Respect
Before entering the ossuary, it is clearly marked that there is no touching of the bones.
17. The Altar In The Catacombes de Paris
Placed deeply inside one of the tunnels surrounded by stacks of bones is an altar. Although the story around this altar is unclear, it seems to be a fitting place to have an altar and hold a service to honour the dead.
18. The Nighttime Concert
People have been fascinated by this enormous and eerie ossuary for hundreds of years. On April 2, 1897, a nighttime concert was organized in the Paris Catacombs between midnight and 2 a.m. Hundreds of people came and listened to The Funeral March by Chopin and The Dance of Death by Camille Saint-Saens. When visiting the Paris Catacombs take a minute to imagine this party! Would you have attended?
19. The French Resistance And The Paris Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs served as an underground sanctuary, a strategic hideout, and a headquarters for courageous fighters of the French Resistance during WWII. Stop for a minute and imagine what clandestine activities transpired in these underground tunnels beneath Paris.
One of the headquarters of the French Resistance can be visited just across the street from the Catacombs of Paris at the Liberation of Paris Museum. The full name of the museum is La Musée de la Libération de Paris – Musée du Général Leclerc-Musée Jean Moulin and honours resistance leader Jean Moulin, General Leclerc and thousands of French Resistance members.
This Liberation of Paris Museum has fascinating permanent exhibits of wartime in France and offers the opportunity to descend to the operational headquarters where Colonel Rol-Tanguy and the Resistance members made plans to liberate Paris.
When visiting the Paris Catacombs, our guide recounted how the Nazis knew of these underground tunnels and used them also. In fact, at one point the French Resistance and the Nazis, unbeknownst to each other, were working side by side underground with just a limestone wall separating them.
20. Movie Filming At The Catacombes de Paris
Not often used as a movie set, the film As Above So Below was filmed and released in 2014. The horror movie was filmed, with the permission of French authorities, using the Paris Catacombs as they appear with very few props. Oh, the title of the film makes me think of the mirror reflection of the Paris streets above. Although it got terrible reviews, if you are fascinated by the Paris Catacombs this film might be your next Friday night screening!
21. The Cataphiles Of The Paris Catacombs
It was during an apartment hunt in Paris that I met my first Parisian cataphile. A cataphile, I discovered, is someone with a passionate interest in the Paris Catacombs.
I asked him if he knew the 14th arrondissement of Paris. He paused and replied, “Only from underground.” This led to a fascinating discussion about Cataphiles and the Catacombs of Paris. He regaled me with tales as I peppered him with questions. I concluded that this Parisian cataphile knew his city intimately from below.
My number one question was, “Aren’t you afraid of getting lost?” Clearly, he was an experienced cataphile who spent much of his spare time on the underground “streets” of Paris because his answer was a resounding, “No.”
When visiting the Catacombs of Paris, the guide will tell stories of parties and gatherings that have taken place illegally in the Catacombs. I immediately thought of the Paris cataphile I had met.
I am definitely not recommending that anyone become a Paris Cataphile. But, they do exist.
22. The Medici Aqueduct
As water dripped from the ceiling our guide explained about the underground l’Aqueduc d’Arcueil also known as the Medici Aqueduct that was situated just above our heads. On the orders of Marie de Medici, an aqueduct was built between 1613 and 1623 bringing water from nearby Rungis to Paris. The Medici Aqueduct was built to supply water to the fountains on the left bank and to the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace. It is still in operation today.
23. Preserving The Stability Of The Tunnels
While visiting the Paris Catacombs, our guide pointed to the cracks in the ceiling of the tunnels. The cracks look minor to the casual tourist and one would never notice them as there is so much to see in the Catacombes de Paris. However, the cracks are monitored and measured. When a crack gets too wide, they are filled with concrete. This is one small part of the overall preservation and protection of the geological, archaeological and historical heritage of the Paris Catacombs.
24. The Catacombs Receive Thousands of Visitors Annually
Visiting the Paris Catacombs is a very popular thing to do in Paris! The Paris Catacombs receive over 550,000 visitors annually. Book your ticket or guided tour well in advance. Expect to line up even if you have your ticket as only 200 people are permitted to descend at a time.
25. Contemplation On Life
When visiting the Paris Catacombs, you will see a number of plaques with inscriptions and quotes. All of them serve as reminders that we are only here on earth for a short amount of time. Walking past the thousands of bones invites contemplation on life.
Until next time,
More Travel Info…
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- Ile de la Cité – the heartbeat of Paris
- Ile Saint-Louis – oldest village in Paris…
- Montmartre – Sacré Coeur, staircases and oozing charm…
- the 7th arrondissement – Eiffel Tower & views, La Grande Epicierie…
- Canal Saint-Martin – iron bridges, boutiques, wine by the canal