Dare to Descend: Unearthing the Secrets of the Catacombs of Paris

21 Aug, 2023

Dare to Descend: Unearthing the Secrets of the Catacombs of Paris

Aug 21, 2023

Introduction to the Catacombs of Paris

Paris, a city known for its romance and beauty, also holds a mysterious side. Beneath the bustling streets and historical landmarks, the city conceals a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers known as the Catacombs of Paris.

What are the Catacombs of Paris?

The catacombs of Paris, also known as ‘les Catacombes’ by locals, are a network of subterranean tunnels and rooms located beneath the city. Stretching over 200 miles, they are part of a vast network of old limestone quarries. But what makes them interesting? Well, they house the skeletal remains of over six million people!

These underground ossuaries were created to address the city’s overflowing cemeteries and have since become a popular attraction for those seeking an offbeat exploration of Paris’s history. When you’re tired of the usual things to do in Paris, the catacombs offer a unique, albeit eerie, experience.

A Brief History of the Catacombs

The story of the catacombs begins in the late 18th century when Paris faced a public health crisis due to overcrowded cemeteries. The issue was particularly severe in Les Innocents, the city’s oldest and largest cemetery. To solve the problem, the city decided to transfer the remains to the abandoned limestone quarries.

The transfer of the remains to the catacombs began in 1786 and continued until 1860. The bones were arranged in a decorative manner and soon became a curiosity for locals and visitors.

In 1809, the catacombs were opened to the public, and since then, they have fascinated and spooked countless visitors. Despite the eeriness of the place, the catacombs of Paris are a reminder of the city’s past and a testament to the transience of life. An exploration of these underground tunnels offers a unique perspective on Paris, far removed from the city’s famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre Museum.

So, are you ready to descend into the underbelly of Paris and uncover its secrets? Let’s delve deeper into the mysterious world of the catacombs.

The Descent into the Underworld

Buckle up, folks! We’re about to embark on a journey into the depths of the Catacombs of Paris. This eerie labyrinth beneath the city streets is filled with mystery, history, and a whole lot of bones.

The Journey Begins

Your descent into the underworld starts with a steep spiral staircase. You’ll descend 131 steps to reach the catacombs, a journey not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of tight spaces. It’s a bit of a workout, but don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most unique experiences Paris has to offer.

Once you’ve conquered the staircase, you’ll find yourself standing in a dimly-lit tunnel. The air is cool and heavy with history. It’s a stark contrast from the bustling city life above ground, but it’s all part of the thrill of exploring the Catacombs of Paris.

What to Expect Down Below

As you wander through the labyrinthine tunnels, you’ll quickly realize that this is no ordinary sightseeing tour. The walls of the catacombs are lined with the remains of more than six million Parisians, neatly stacked and arranged in a morbid display of skulls and femurs.

These dark corridors are filled with a silent aura, serving as a stark reminder of the city’s past. A visit to the catacombs is like stepping back in time, providing a glimpse into a previously hidden part of Parisian history.

But it’s not all doom and gloom down in the catacombs. You’ll also find some fascinating inscriptions and sculptures along the way, created by the workers who helped move the bones to their final resting place.

Remember, the catacombs are an important historical site, so be respectful and avoid touching the bones or defacing the site in any way. And don’t forget to bring a sweater or jacket – it can get quite chilly down there!

So, are you ready to add a dash of the macabre to your Paris itinerary? With its unique history and chilling atmosphere, the Catacombs of Paris offer an experience unlike any other. But remember, a journey into the underworld is not for everyone. If you’re not a fan of tight spaces or prefer your sightseeing to be a little less spooky, there are plenty of other things to do in Paris that might be more up your alley.

The Secrets of the Catacombs

As you wander the eerie tunnels of the Catacombs of Paris, you’ll come across a treasure trove of stories, legends, and interesting facts that add an extra layer of intrigue to your subterranean adventure.

Interesting Facts about the Catacombs

When you think of the Catacombs, the first thing that probably comes to mind are the stacks of skulls and bones. But there’s so much more to this place than just that.

  • The Catacombs house the remains of approximately six million people! That’s almost three times the current population of Paris.

  • The labyrinthine tunnels stretch for over 200 miles beneath the city. However, only a small portion of this is open to the public.

  • The bones aren’t just haphazardly thrown together. They’re arranged in a meticulous and sometimes artistic manner, with patterns and shapes formed from different bones.

  • Among the millions of remains, there are a few famous ones. The remains of the revolutionaries who were killed during the French Resistance are said to rest here.

  • The Catacombs weren’t initially intended to be a tourist attraction. They were opened to the public due to popular demand in the 19th century.

Stories and Legends Linked to the Catacombs

The Catacombs of Paris are shrouded in tales and legends that add to their eerie charm. Some of these stories might just send a chill down your spine as you navigate the dark tunnels.

One of the most famous legends is that of Philibert Aspairt, a doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grâce hospital during the French Revolution. He ventured into the Catacombs one night to fetch a bottle of Chartreuse liquor from a cellar but never returned. His body wasn’t found until 11 years later, just a few feet from an exit.

Then there’s the legend of the Green Man, or “l’Homme Vert”. He’s said to be the ghost of a man who got lost in the Catacombs and now haunts the tunnels. Some explorers claim they’ve seen him wandering the tunnels, forever lost in the dark.

And let’s not forget the Catacombs’ role in World War II. The French Resistance used the tunnels to hide from the Nazis. Meanwhile, the Germans set up an underground bunker in the Catacombs, remnants of which can still be seen today.

Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, or just love a good ghost story, the Catacombs of Paris are definitely worth a visit. But remember, there’s more to Paris than these eerie tunnels. Check out our guide on things to do in Paris for more exciting adventures in the City of Lights!

Visiting the Catacombs

Visiting the Catacombs of Paris is an experience like no other. But before you dive into the depths of the city, there are some things you should know to get the most out of your visit.

When to Visit the Catacombs

The Catacombs are open to the public year-round, but the best time to visit would be from Tuesday to Sunday, between 10:00 AM and 8:30 PM. The Catacombs are closed on Mondays and certain public holidays.

However, do note that the last admission is at 7:30 PM, so it’s best to plan your visit well in advance. Due to the popularity of the Catacombs, the site can get quite crowded, especially during peak tourist season (summer months and during holidays). So, if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during off-peak times.

Days Time
Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 AM – 8:30 PM
Last Admission 7:30 PM
Closed Mondays and Certain Public Holidays

Tips for a Smooth Visit

Visiting the Catacombs is an unforgettable experience, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Here are some tips to ensure your visit goes smoothly:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes: You’ll be walking a lot, and the ground can be uneven. Comfortable, sturdy shoes are a must.
  2. Dress in layers: It can get quite cool underground, even during the summer. Dressing in layers will ensure you stay comfortable throughout your visit.
  3. Bring a flashlight: While the Catacombs are lit, some areas can be dim. A small flashlight or headlamp can come in handy.
  4. Travel light: Large bags and suitcases are not permitted inside the Catacombs. There is a small locker area, but space is limited.
  5. Prepare for stairs: You will need to descend and ascend a long spiral staircase (about 130 steps each way). If you have mobility issues, take note.
  6. Book in advance: Due to their popularity, tickets for the Catacombs can sell out quickly, especially during peak season. It’s recommended to book your tickets in advance.

Remember, the Catacombs are just one of the many fantastic things to do in Paris. There’s a whole city above ground waiting to be explored. So, once you’ve had your fill of the underworld, why not check out the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, or Notre-Dame Cathedral? Bon voyage!

Beyond the Tourist Path

While the well-lit tunnels and neatly stacked bones of the official tour route are undeniably intriguing, the Catacombs of Paris have even more to offer to those willing to delve deeper. But be warned, the journey off the beaten path might be a bit more adventurous than you bargained for.

Lesser Known Parts of the Catacombs

The official tour of the catacombs covers only a small fraction of the vast network of underground tunnels. Away from the usual tourist path, there are miles of labyrinthine corridors, secret rooms, and forgotten ossuaries that lie in the darkness, waiting to be discovered.

One such lesser-known part is the Cabinet of Curiosities, a small room filled with geological exhibits and ancient carvings. There’s also the Sepulchral Lamp, a monument that once held an eternal flame, and the Quarryman’s Footbath, a knee-deep pool of water where workers once soaked their weary feet.

However, exploring these off-limits sections isn’t a walk in the park. The tunnels are dark, claustrophobic, and easy to get lost in. Plus, there’s always the risk of tunnel collapses or encounters with the infamous Parisian cataphiles, who illegally explore and hold secret parties in the depths of the catacombs.

The Illegal Side of the Catacombs Exploration

While the thought of exploring the forbidden parts of the catacombs might sound exciting, it’s important to note that doing so is illegal. The Parisian authorities have made it clear that trespassers found in the off-limits sections of the catacombs will be fined.

Despite this, there’s a subculture of cataphiles who regularly descend into the forbidden sections of the catacombs. They navigate through the pitch-black tunnels, crawl through narrow passageways, and even swim across underground lakes to explore the hidden depths of the catacombs.

Some cataphiles are historians and cartographers who document and map the catacombs, while others are graffiti artists, party-goers, or simply thrill-seekers. There are even stories of secret concerts and film screenings taking place in the heart of the catacombs.

While the thought of joining a secret society of underground explorers might sound enticing, it’s crucial to be aware of the risks involved. Apart from the obvious legal consequences, there are also the dangers of getting lost, trapped, or injured in the dark, unstable tunnels.

So, unless you’re an experienced cataphile with a passion for underground exploration and a disregard for the law, it’s best to stick to the official tour route and enjoy the catacombs in a safe and legal way. For other adventurous yet legal activities to do in Paris, check out our article on things to do in Paris.


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