Although it has been some time since Halloween, any visit to Paris, especially when it is not the first time and there is no urgency to get the best pictures of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, may be well complemented by a visit to the Catacombs of Paris.
Visit Catacombs in Paris? Well, why not?! After all, between the sewers and catacombs, no wonder why the Parisians often say that “Paris repose surunGruyère”, meaning that their city is built on top of a Gruyere cheese, the very typical cheese full of holes on it.
The Catacombs of Paris were opened for its current purpose in the late 18th century. Until then, the tunnels had served as limestone quarrying for construction purposes. In 1780 however, the largest cemetery in Paris, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents in the Les Halles district had to be closed for public health reasons and after requests of the neighbors. Five years later, a decree made it necessary to remove all human remains from this cemetery.
In 1777 the king created a department of quarries to reinforce the old quarries and prevent, by these means, the collapse of the city. It was decided that all the bones from the cemeteries of the city shall be deposited in the out-of-use limestone quarries that were located in the district of Tombe-Issoire. Work continued until 1860 but the former quarries, now come catacombs, opened in the early 19th century for the general public.
The entry to the Catacombs is located in the No. 1 of Avenue du Colonel, near the metro station Denfert-Rochereau, reachable with metro lines 4 and 6, and RER line B. You can also access the Catacombs taking the buses 38 and 68.
After descending 20 meters under the ground (130 steps), visitors must walk through a narrow tunnel of about 500 meters below the Avenue René Coty to reach the “workshop” where pillars are still used to prevent subsidence as in times the quarries were being used. Then you will arrive in Port Mahon, where Décure, a quarry worker who had been previously imprisoned in the town of Port-Mahon in the Balearic Island of Minorca, reproduced the fort of this city and made other sculptures. Décure unfortunately died in the quarries during a collapse.
After passing the “foot bath of the quarry workers”, an underground body of crystal clear water discovered by quarry workers and used to mix cement, you will reach the ossuary, which greets visitors with a sign: “Stop, here lies the power of death “. Passing through this portal you will access some 780 meters of corridors where the remains of approximately 6 million Parisians rest, distributed orderly and in artistic shapes.
The skulls and long bones are lined up in front, while the rest of the bones lie piled up behind. Some bones are arranged in heart shapes, circles, wreaths or other structures. Other bones are used to decorate pillars or barrels. There are traces of familiar people and many other anonymous people. Those deceased at the time of the French Revolution, which were among the few directly buried in the Catacombs. The story of amacabre illegal underground concert and that of sepulchral lamp used for air circulation prior to the air holes are some of the other things that can be seen in the tour, accompanied by carved phrases alluding to the brevity of life and impending death.
The tour ends when you walk by an educational corridor under the Dumoncel Remy Street, which explains the major damage that may occur to the limestone quarries of Paris when the roof collapses. The tour ends by number 36 of the DumoncelRémy street, a few blocks from the point of entry and close to the metro stations Mouton Duvernet and Alésia. A gift shop is conveniently located opposite the exit.
The catacombs of Paris can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, except on national holidays. The last entry can take place at 16 hours. The cost of admission is 8 euros, but there is a 50% reduction for students and other benefited groups. You can skip the line and book a walking tour by clicking here.
A printed map of the catacombs and explanation of the points of interest is given to those who enter, but you can also hire an audio guide for 3 euros; available in English. Guided tours are available, but must be booked in advance.
In total, the route takes 2 miles and can be covered in about 45 minutes, or more, depending on your interests. Flash and tripod pictures are not allowed. The tunnels have a temperature of 14 degrees Celsius and moisture or mud may be present in some parts, so you should wear appropriate footwear. There are no toilets, so be sure to use the bathroom before entering.
The Catacombs, a different way to enjoy tourism in Paris!