a rather macabre site in paris is the catacombs. in 1786 millions of bones were moved from a cemetery in les halles to this site. years later, napoleon had the the bones arranged in designs such as crosses as to compete with the catacombs of rome. it is estimated that there are over six million human bones in this crypt. charles X used to throw wild parties in the catacombs. at the entrance to the crypt is a sign " stop, this is the empire of death"
I was incredibly disappointed to find that when we visited Paris in March 2005 the Catacombes were shut for renovations - I had read so much about them, and wanted to visit for a very long time.
Apparently the bones of 5 to 6 million people were placed in these disused stone quarries in order to solve the problem of overcrowded cemeteries - particularly those from the cemetery of des Innocents. This unique collection covers a surface of 11.000 square meters, a tiny portion of the 300 km of old mine corridors.
However, at least we found where the entrance is, and when we go back there will be no stopping us!
Edit: Tried again to visit September 2008, and discovered they are closed on Mondays. It will have to be third time lucky!!
While not on everyone's to-see list, this is one of the most unique attractions in Paris--or anywhere. There is simply nothing else quite like it. Some other sights may be forgotten over time, but this one will stay with you forever.
In 1786, just before the Revolution, it was decided to move remains from the old cemetery at Les Halles to this location. Rock quarries had created vast underground spaces, where the bones could be reinterred. This huge task went on for years. By the time it was complete, the remains of about six million people had been relocated here. And here they have stayed. During World War II, it was the headquarters of the French Resistance. Today, this is one of the city's tourist attractions.
The narrow corridors, lined with human bones, stretch on for over half a mile. It's an incredible sight, one of the strangest things you'll ever see. The good part begins at a narrow archway with a sign reading: "Stop! This is the Empire of Death."
Wow...love it or get creaped out by it, you will remember the Catacombs. Others have given great descriptions of this adventure, but I wanted to offer a few pointers. 1. Pay attention to the days and times they are open. We got there at the very end of the hours of operation and they pushed us through faster than what we wanted to go. 2. They do not allow flash photography, but I brought a headlight with me and it worked great. Other guests were following me around and taking pictures of whatever I took because that was the only light bright enough for your pictures to work. 3. Don't wear flip-flops. The ground is damp in spots and your feet will probably get a little dirty or as I like to joke, "bone dust". Any walking shoes will be fine.
We were in Paris for a week and this was on my "must see" list. I made the right choice to put it on that list. Takes about 60-90 minutes to go through.
WHAT I CAN REMEMBER IS THAT WE WERE NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE PICTURES...SO I DIDN'T!!!!! I REMEMBER MY SWISS FRIENDS SAYING THAT THE LAST TIME THEY WERE IN PARIS ..THAT THEY HAD MISSED GOING INTO THIS PLACE BECAUSE IT WAS CLOSED..AND MAYBE THEY DIDN'T KNOW THE ENGLISH WORD FOR "CATACOMBES". .OTHERWISE I MIGHT NOT HAVE GONE WITH THEM. .HEHEHEHEHEHE!!!!!!
I DO REMEMBER PAYING 5 EURO TO ENTER AND ALSO THEM CHECKING OUR BACK-PACKS BEFORE WE WENT DOWN ABOUT TWO OR THREE FLIGHTS OF STAIRS!!!!
ALSO REMEMBER MY ONE FRIEND ASKING ME IF I KNEW WHAT THAT SIGN ABOVE THE ENTRANCE SAID...I DIDN'T!!!! SO THEY SAID IT SAYS" YOU ARE NOW ENTERING DEATH"!! WHAT A WAY TO START THE TOUR ..HUH??!! HEHEHEHE!!! The Catacombs of Paris is a famous burial place in Paris, France. It is a network of subterranean tunnels and rooms located in what were Roman-era limestone quarries. The quarries were converted into a mass tomb near the end of the 18th century. It is most widely known as "the catacombs", but the official title is "les carrières de Paris" or "the quarries of Paris."Burial use in the depleted quarries was established in 1786 by the order of Monsieur Thiroux de Crosne, Lt. General of Police, and by Monsieur Guillaumot, Inspector General of Quarries. At the time, the Les Halles district in the middle of the city was suffering from disease , due to contamination caused by improper burials and mass graves in churchyard cemeteries, especially the large Cimetière des Innocents . It was decided to discreetly remove the bones and place them in the abandoned quarries.
My 1st trip to Paris the Catacombes was on my list of MUST SEES but I missed my window of opportunity (open 2 hrs at 2 separate times a day & closed Monday), so I HAD TO see it 2nd trip. Just thought it would be cool - sort of a gothic thing. Referred to my 1st trip as a Gothic Tour of Paris, not hard to accomplish due to the many gothic influences/things.
Second time 'round to Paris the 1st thing I did was go to the Catacombes. I even left my best friend, Kristin, sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for them to fix up the room while I went off on my jaunt! But she understood my obsession & she had no interest in seeing smelly, old bones.
The walk-through only lasts about half an hour, it's very easy to get to from the Denfert-Rochereau Métro station (you come up out onto Place Denfert-Rochereau - see 1st photo - and it's just across the street - see 2nd photo).
It was very creepy and cool. Highly unusual. There are many signs (in French) reflecting/philosophizing on death in general and on these bones in particular. Signs asking for moments of silence, requests for prayer, etc.. It is weird realizing that the bones ARE real people and the sad realization hits home when you see a hole in the "artwork" where a skull is missing. However, there are precautions now against the stealing of these bones. They do search your bags, etc. when you enter and when you exit.
Click here for a cool website with some fantastic photos! And here's an interesting article the Guardian wrote last September regarding a truly "underground" cinéma by unknown inhabitants housed in the supposedly inaccessible parts of the quarries.
PRICE: 5€ (2002 prices)
STEPS TO CLIMB WHEN EXITING: 83
TOTAL HIKE LENGTH: 1 km 70 (noted from the sign at entrance)
To find out more about les Catacombes you can buy this book.
Photos: Nov '07
À voir absolument au moins une fois dans sa vie: les catacombes. Pour chaque os empilé, il y a une personne qui a existé, qui a vécu, qui avait des amis... Difficile d'imaginer une histoire pour tous ces gens!
This was unbeleivable, i had heard about this place and recomended to visit it, but i was not prepared for the magnitude of the bodys. to start with the tour feels very dark and weird as you wind yourself around the dark tunnels with not much to look at. But when you finally see the sceletons stacked up for Km's it blows you away.
very creepys and not for the easily spooked.
This place just oozes macabre....the creepy vibe is strong here. You will notice that your shoes are covered with dust when you leave, probably dust from the piles of bones. I have a thing for underground cities and tunnels and this did not dissapoint. I loved it.
The Catacombs are underground limestone galleries that were produced when the building materials for Paris were quarried within Paris itself. Some of the mining was open-pit; other was apparently underground. When the mining activities resulted in collapse of buildings at street-level, it was outlawed. Since then, the street level has risen and the entire maze built over.
Napolean mandated that cemeteries in the Halles district of Paris be emptied because high water tables and corpses are a bad (unhealthy) mix. Over a year's time, night workers exhumed the bodies and transported them in huge carts to the closed limestone mines where they were "reburied". The thing is, the "bodies" were mostly bones. Instead of burying the bones, they were stacked in the quarries like firewood. A LOT of firewood. It is stacked 5' to 8' high and sometimes as deep as 40'. There are walkways between the stacks. The walkway you follow through the catacombs is probably close to 1/2 kilometer long. There are a lot of people who ended up in the catacombs of Paris.
Once all the bodies were moved, the church consecrated the catacombs. They are considered holy ground and should be afforded appropriate respect. Taking pictures is frowned on.
The catacombs are a small part of the "underground" of French resistance fame.
NOTE - the catacombs are very dry, they do NOT smell and there are NO rats. The place is really quite clean.
You enter the catacombs next to the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station. You come up MANY blocks away (the tour is 1.5 km long) on an undescript side street. DO take a Paris street map with you to find your way back.
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