Catacombes, Paris

4 out of 5 stars 54 Reviews

Place Denfert-Rochereau, 14e

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  • jumpingnorman's Profile Photo

    Catacombs and 6-7 million skeletons!

    by jumpingnorman Updated Mar 14, 2013

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    JumpingNorman beside skeletons, Catacombs, France
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    My sister VTer JumpingwithNorman was insistent that we visit the catacombs of Paris when we went in September 2009. I did not want to go because as a doctor, I have seen my share of human remains/bones – but there was no way I can persuade my sister to see other sites which I thought were more interesting and pleasant.

    So, we made a deal that after we tour the area around Eiffel during the morning, we would head off at about 300PM to the catacombs by subway. We got off the Denfert-Rochereau Metro Station and as we walked out and crossed the street, we did go the wrong way and had to go back to see the line of people waiting to go into the catacombs.

    It was already 330 PM and a guard was walking at the line, saying that there is a possibility we might not get in. Yikes! My sister was kinda worried herself but kept her cool (it was Sunday and the next day Monday, the catacombs and most museums were closed!)…and they only accept visitors in at 4 PM apparently…and at exactly 4 PM we were able to go in with the next batch of 10 people. I think another batch was able to go in after us…it amazed me to see the people still lining up at the slow line…and I am glad we did not leave because we were still able to get in.

    It was great going through the tunnels and seeing the bones --- I did not expect the tunnels to be soooooo long and it was very dark in some places and in Sept 2009 – there was some vandalism (must have been after we visited) because I saw reports of the catacombs being closed (as I was doing my research online as I was doing this tip)…

    You really don’t see the skeletons until after about 15-20 minutes of walking, a little cool and chilly inside, and there is that certain smell of old bones. The ceiling is not too high so it was hard to get a jumping picture, but I still did it. I think it took us about 45 minutes to walk the whole way (about 2 km and no bathrooms!)…the way the bones were stacked was very interesting. They were moved here from different cemeteries in the late 1700’s as an “infection control” and then visitors started seeing the catacombs during the late 1800’s and I heard it was even used for some concerts!.

    The exit is at another location (different from where you came in) and there was a lady guard at the exit and we noticed bones on a table. It looks like some people tried to get bones out of the catacombs! Why?

    Overall, a unique experience, and I am glad my sister persuaded me to see the catacombs.

    Catacombs Visitors Entrance Location: 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Place Denfert Rochereau, 75014 Paris

    How to Get to the Paris Catacombs: Paris Metro stop Denfert-Rochereau; Paris RER B stop Denfert-Rochereau; Paris bus lines 38 & 68 stop nearby; closest (pay) parking lot is at Saint-Jacques Boulevard

    Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm (last admission 4pm)
    Admission Fee: €8 adult, €4 ages 14-26, €6 ages 60+, children under 13 free. Under age 14 must be with adult

    UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE!

    I love travelling with my Jumpingsister!
    Here is our video during a trip to this great city:

    JUMPINGNORMAN AND HIS SISTER IN PARIS!

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  • BeatChick's Profile Photo

    Les Catacombes

    by BeatChick Updated Feb 3, 2008

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    Entrance to the Catacombes
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    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

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  • CatherineReichardt's Profile Photo

    Going underground ...

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jun 7, 2013

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    Shadow portrait against a pile of skulls

    When you think catacombs, the natural association is with cities such as Rome ... yet Paris has its own (rather recent) variation on this theme.

    The catacombs beneath Paris started life as underground quarries to produce building stone. However, after a time, doctors began to recognise that there was a firm link between epidemic diseases and the juxtaposition of badly located, poor managed and overcrowded cemeteries with high density suburbs. Eventually the decision was made to relocate the cemeteries (no doubt with half an an eye on the redevelopment potential of the prime inner city land that this would free up), but the challenge was what to do with the bones. The obvious solution was to use these to backfill worked out sections of the underground quarries: removal of the remains of an estimated 6 million people began in 1786 and was completed two years later, which seems staggeringly efficient (clearly French labour was not yet unionised).

    The catacombs were first opened to the public since the early nineteenth century, and have been accessible to the public on a regular basis since 1867. The macabre subject matter was particularly appealing to Victorian society, and the catacombs have featured in several novels, including works by Victor Hugo, Edgar Allen Poe and Umberto Eco.

    The odd thing about walking through the catacombs is that the only bones you see are arm bones, leg bones and skulls, yet you know that the rest of the bones have to be somewhere. A fellow VTer subsequently informed me that when he visited, he saw a section that had partly collapsed, which confirmed that these larger, more uniform bones have been used to create 'retaining walls' with all the more randomly shaped bits and bobs being stacked behind.

    Even though I visited in winter, there was still quite a queue to enter as only a few people are allowed in at a time. There is no guided tour, so visitors walk through the catacombs at their own pace - a distance of about 2km. The catacombs are relatively dry and well lit, and are accessible to anyone who is moderately mobile (the most challenging sections are the 130 stairs on the way in and 83 steps on the way out). Note that the exit is over a kilometre from the entrance, so plan accordingly.

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  • BarryAir's Profile Photo

    Bones and Catacombs

    by BarryAir Written Nov 12, 2005

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    Bonage
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    Wanna see more bones and skullls than you can imagine? Visit the Catacombs under Paris. These bones came from thousands of dead intered in Paris cemataries when the government decided to empty all the church graveyards in the city to make room for more/other development. Please remember that this tour requires going down a 60 foot, very tight, spirel starwell, then a very long walk to the bones thru caverns and another 60 foot climb up a spirel starwell. And dont play songs on the craniums like I did, and get busted...

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  • doug48's Profile Photo

    catacombs

    by doug48 Updated May 19, 2009

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    catacombs
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    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"

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  • lilnation's Profile Photo

    Not for the faint at heart

    by lilnation Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Creepy

    The Catacombes is a result of Paris cemeteries being overflowing with dead bodies staking their claim for their piece of earth. Problem was that the city had no room for the newly deceased around the 18th Century. Therefore, the idea to store the bodies underground was originated. An estimated 4-6 million bodies are neatly stacked underground in nice neat rows on display which I myself have witnessed.
    I must add quite a neat job and the caverns do go on for several miles. The caverns themselves are dark, grungy, and damp.

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  • Jehcekah's Profile Photo

    Denfert-Rochereaux Catacombs

    by Jehcekah Written Jan 16, 2004

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    Denfert-Rochereaux Catacombs

    Take the Metro stop of the same name to a small, green, metal building. The entrance fee is a few Euro. After paying, you will proceed down a narrow, winding staircase under ground. The first few areas of the walk are just tunnels, but their eerie darkness gives you the right kind of ambience for what lies ahead. Millions and millions of bones stacked up, put into cross formations, heart formations, and piles of skulls. It is an amazing sight to behold. Unfortunately, there are always a few people who can ruin a visit, like the teenagers visiting while we were there. They picked up the bones and were just generally annoying. However, we were able to get around them and enjoyed the rest of our walk. It can get damp in the corridors and bringing a flashlight is actually a great idea.

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  • Kid-A's Profile Photo

    Sewer tour

    by Kid-A Written Jan 30, 2007

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    duck your head and enjoy
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    This is a very cool little tour that will take you less than an hour and really shows you how Paris grew from the original settlement on the islands (Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis??) to what it has become today. It's a must see for people who are into history.

    Entrance to the Paris Sewer Museum is at Pont d'Alma in front of 93 Quai d'Orsay, near the Place de la Résistance. The museum is open Saturday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (it closes at 4 p.m. from October through April, and shuts down for three weeks in January.)

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  • Onedragon's Profile Photo

    CATACOMBES

    by Onedragon Updated Oct 3, 2008

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    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.

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  • garridogal's Profile Photo

    Creepy and Fascinating!

    by garridogal Written Jun 21, 2009

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    Are you ready to be car-eeeeeeped out?
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    I can't tell you why but I really wanted to see the catacombs. Maybe it's because I used to love watching that "Cities of the Underworld" show on the History channel. Or maybe it's because I have a taste for the macabre. Along with the gargoyles, I think this was the most interesting thing I did in Paris.

    After descending around 300 steps you enter a series of underground tunnels that go on for quite a while. It's dark and murky and damp. Some areas are closed off by gates which just adds to the intrigue. Along the way you'll also find sculptures in the wall of places around Paris.

    Finally, you reach L'Empire de la Mort. Room after room after room of skeletal remains are stacked neatly along the wall, often with the skulls being used in a decorative manner. Is it morbid? Yes! Is it interesting? You bet!

    I'll estimate that there are the remains of thousands of departed down there. Check it out!

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  • Pieter11's Profile Photo

    Les Catacombes

    by Pieter11 Written Dec 13, 2006

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    When the Romans came to Paris, a long time ago, they needed rock to built their houses and other constructions with. They searched in the area where they first settled: at the southbank of the Seine-river. Here they dug kilometres of tunnels to get as many rocks out as possible. After the Roman period almost all the buildings (except the Arènes de Lutèce) were covered or destroyed, but the tunnels stayed.

    For many centuries these tunnels were more or less abandoned, until the plaque-epidemic broke out in the Medievals. Millions of Parisians died in a short time and after a while all the cemetaries in the city were full with dead bodies, sometimes even metres above the ground! Something had to be done, and then the Roman tunnels were remembered again.

    In 1785 the huge work was started to move the millions of skeletons to the tunnels. The work was done in the night, not to shock all the people, and once the bones were inside they were perfectly organised to keep a structure in the tunnels and to save space.

    In the tunnels signs were added to indicate where the bones originally came from, and at the beginning of the bone-collection a sign was made "Arrète! Ici c'est l'empire de la mort" meaning "Stop, this is the empire of death".

    The tunnels were used for the last time during the Second World War, when the French Resistant had a base here.

    Today the tunnels are opened for the public. It is possible to walk around the tunnels, in a route of 2 kilometres at a depth of about 20 metres. Be prepared that the tunnels are dark, cold and wet, and of course that the millions of bones around you can be shocking.

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  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo

    Spooky Place

    by BruceDunning Updated Aug 4, 2009

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    A blur of death
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    It is a lot to view down under (80 feet)and the tour is worth it. Skulls everywhere. Napoleon first ordered the resurrection of bodies from on to of ground in cemeteries because they would float up with high water, or he may have just wanted to expand the city growth. Around 1785, they dug up over 40,000 bodies and since they were "cured" stacked them up. The caves were first used to dig out limestone for building, and many acres were carved out, but the trail showing the bones is only about 1 mile long, but that is a lot of bones

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  • Tom_Fields's Profile Photo

    The Catacombs

    by Tom_Fields Written Nov 15, 2008

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    Entrance to the Catacombs
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    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."

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  • newsphotogirl's Profile Photo

    Catacombs

    by newsphotogirl Updated Aug 1, 2003

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    I went off season so there were very few people. You buy a ticket and proceed down several stairways to enter the catacombs. At first I was the only person there. Veeeeery scary! You walk through a display of pictures that I guessed decribed how the catacombs were built and renovated to become the tourist destination they are today. Then you get to the area were bones from different cemetaries are stacked upon each other. The skull and leg bones are stacked in design patterns. The names of each street above you are inscribed on the wall. You can easily imagine the Jewish resistance setting up in these tunnels. I finally saw other people, two men that I practically walked into in my effort to stay close (it was scary in there!). They had a good laugh about that.
    I didn't pay attention to where the exit let you out and I was a little lost, you walk a long way through the tunnels. I found a metro and figured out where I was.

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  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo

    Cave of the dead pieces

    by BruceDunning Updated Jun 15, 2009

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    Entrance identification
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    During the era of late1700's, the cemeteries were filling up with cadavers (dead people) and it was decided to dig up and put in them in the caves. Eventually the theme took off so well, that nearly 30,000 were down under and stacked neatly in patterns and by parts. How beautiful. Save room for daddy. Then someone got the idea to make art of those skulls and bones, so you see them in various states of being stacked and presented for display to tourists. I think creamation would have eliminated this problem.

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