The Catacombs were created at the end of the 18th century to serve as an ossuary. In 1780 cause of public health reasons, the main cemetery of Paris, located in Les Halles, was closed.
In 1785 the Council of State decided that the human remains should have been removed from the cemetry. Catacombs had two main pourposes, collecting human remains from the cemeteries and protecting and reinforcing Paris' quarries . So it was decided that bones from all the city cemeteries would be stored in limestone quarries in the Tombe Issoire district. This continued until 1860. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Catacombs opened to the public.During my visit I walked fast and suddenly found myself alone among all these bones, let's say that I waited for some visitors to reach me.
Open 10-20 Closed on Monday
This was my ex's "Must See" in 2000 more than mine, but I have to admit going down flights and flights of stairs underground and following along dark tunnels lined with skulls and bones was quite...intriguing (I think they were located from a full cemetery which had to be moved.)
A visit to the Catacombes is well worth it; I would also recommend doing some research ahead of time as to the history and reason for their existence so that your visit carries more meaning.
If you're going on a holiday or weekend, set aside a lot of time for a line up. I found the queue here to be much longer than at all the museums. We waited for 2.5 hours to get in. The visit itself probably takes 30-45 mins, depending on how fast you walk through. It starts off with a long walk down a curled staircase which then leads into a very brief museum where you can read about the history if you choose. Afterwards, you enter the actual catacombs where there are said to be 6 million skeletons.
You are allowed to take photos, however not with flash. There are staff down below to enforce this.
On a Saturday cloudy morning I decided to visit the Catacombes de Paris, it was my 4th time in Paris so I decided to do it even though I knew I may had to wait on a long line. The entrance is just opposite Denfert-Rochereau metro station but the line was already round the small park. Believe it or not we had to wait for almost 2 hours to get in which is normal because visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time (I guess in summer months may take more than 3 hours!).
Have in mind there’s no toilet or cloakroom facilities inside so be prepared before hand for this, once inside you may spend about 45’ from one end to the other, you actually get out at about 1km away from the entrance gate.
We bought the ticket and started to walk down the 130 steps or the narrow spiral stone stairwell (people with reduced mobility cant go for sure) which is the most challenging section and not the 2km through the caverns and tunnels (there are no steps, you just walk through, there’s low light but enough not to crush on the skulls!) until you reach the end and then have to walk up 83 steps :(
Until late 18th century the catacombs were underground quarries that producing building stones but since then they house the remains of about 6 million people! But how did that happened? When the Parisian cemeteries became overcrowed the authorities decided to bring the remains of poor people here, it wall started in 1786 and took almost 2 years to empty most of Paris’ cemeteries and the place turned into a mausoleum open to the public.
The first 1000 meters are kind of boring, you don’t see any skeleton, we just walked for 20’ through a twisting hallway with only some signs here and there to break the monotony, if you look up there’s a line that used to lead the visitors in the old times (pic 5), at the end we saw a strange fortress model but hey where are the skulls?! It was time to read the inscription Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort(stop! Here lies the empire of Death! )
It was time to see the first walls full of bones in front of us, now for several meters we were walking through hallways that were covered on both sides with thousands skulls and bones, we had a strange feeling after a while looking on all these endless walls with carefully arranged human bones and skulls, other visitors didn’t have problem and they tried to pose in front of the skulls on every corner, but it wasn’t really packed with visitors, actually most time we didn’t have other (living) people around us…
There are also some monumental tablets and inscriptions here and there again but I have to admit I got bored at the end.
Don’t even think to take a “souvenir” with you, your bags will be checked on your way out ;) There’s a souvenir store opposite the exit gate(surprise I know) to keep you busy if you want to buy some skull shaped merchandise.
The entrance fee is 8euros (under 26yrs 4e) no online booking available. There are also audio guides for 3euros.
Open daily 10.00-17.00 except Mondays and public holidays
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.
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!
My mother really wanted to visit this attraction, so we headed over to Denfert Rochereau, which is a good 15 minutes away by the metro (from Grand Boulevards where we were staying), and once we arrived we looked to join the usual tourist queue.
The entrance to the Catacombes is literally outside the station (whether you take the main line or RER) but what shocked us what just how long the queue was, literally went around the block almost reaching the entrance back again in a full circle.
We spent about 4 and a half hours in the queue, which moved at snail space, while scoffing on baugettes and macroons from Pauls across the road until it was our turn to enter. Down plenty of stairs (made me a bit dizzy) followed by a sort of gallery space explaining the history of the Catacombes, followed by long dark winding tunnels (really long) until you finally reach the entrance of the underground graveyard, where the very neat stacks of skulls and bones go on and on.
I did find it a fascinating experience and there was some interesting fossils from the limestone quarry. But my advice is to be prepared to walk alot in dimly lit tunnels ( almost 1 hour I think) and lots of stairs to climb down and back out again.
The souvenior shop (which I just must pop into) had some great skull shaped/printed merchandise.
I was extremely relieved when Ed (kaspian) said that the Catacombs were creepy, I'd be a little worried about someone who didn't find stacks of the skulls and bones of an estimated 6 million people, artfully arranged into endless walls, just a little eerie. Where did all these bones come from? The bones were relocated from cemeteries that were dug up and moved over the years starting with the Cimitiere des Innocents in 1786 when the decomposing bodies started oozing into the cellars at the nearby Les Halles market. Knowing this, it was a little disconcerting when you felt dripping from above, even if most of the dead bodies surely would have decomposed over the course of 200+ years, right? The dead are organized by cemetery, not by person, the bones stacked by type of bone. Prostitutes, beggars, doctors, farmers, shopkeepers literally rubbing shoulders with prominent Parisians such as author Charles Perrault, composer Jean Baptiste Lully, politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert, playwright Molière and figures from the French Revolution such as Robespierre and Danton.
There was a long line when we arrived but it went quickly, note that the last entrance is at 4pm as it closes at 5pm. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm, cost currently 8E. Wear good walking shoes, we were there for at least 45 minutes and some of the path is wet, my shoes were covered in mud. Don't think about taking a souvenir skull, they have attendants checking your bags at the exit, I think they even confiscated one the day we were there.
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.
The catacombs is a very unique thing to see. It consists of a half hour walk through an underground limestone mine from the roman days. What makes it so interesting is that it is filled full of human bones from the 1700s, and the caves have so much history.
I do love Paris, in the spring or any time, I’ve seen most of the popular sites several times but it was when I was stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower I heard of a place I had missed... The Paris Catacombs.
The Catacombs are a somewhat off the beaten track place to visit, very low key and the entrance and exit gave no hint of the impact the interior would have on myself and family when we visited. First you encounter the 130 steps down to the catacombs themselves. It’s not for the faint hearted, those with breathing difficulties or a fear of enclosed spaces. If you are diabetic take something sweet with you as there is NOTHING down there but bones! There is no cloakroom and no toilets. The temperature is about 14 degrees with 2 km to walk which takes about 45 minutes, or longer if like us you linger over old inscriptions and interesting writing mostly in French or Latin. They only allow 200 visitors in at a time so spread over 2km its not crowded, and they will temporarily stop any further people entering when they have their maximum visitors. Do not take young children and children younger than 14 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.
When I first decided to share this amazing place with you, I was going to describe in detail the experiences that you would find there, but on reflection part of the pleasure was the surprise and the experience of discovering for yourself this really fascinating place. So I am giving nothing away... except to say, I felt very small and mortal in there, it’s interesting historically and is visually and emotionally mind blowing. All in all it’s REALLY worth the 130 steps down, with the good news being there are only 83 steps to get back up to the exit!
I shall never forget the feeling I got from walking back into the warmth and light of that summers day.
Catacombs of Paris
1, avenue of Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy
Tel.: 01 43 22 47 63
Fax: 01 43 22 48 17
Subway and the RER b: Denfert-Rochereau
Paying car park: Saint-Jacques boulevard
Schedules of opening
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 17 p.m. every day except Monday (Last admission at 16 p.m.)
Deep underground Paree, for around 8 Euro, you can walk down cramped spiral staircases to see stacks of bones and skulls. No, it's not Dick Cheney's "Undisclosed Location;" it's the Catacombes. I won't bore you with the medical history of the place; I'll leave that to the obtuse tourists who will download it off the back of sugar packets. The Catacombes are indeed creepy! Especially toward the end of the tunnel, the ceilings really do drip water, making the damp pebbly floor all the more slippery and treacherous. And I recall that the whole "tour" took less than one hour, leaving me in delightful Montparnasse, a very Penny Lane-ish area of Paree. (February 2009)