The Catacombs of Paris | Attraction Guides | History Hit

The Catacombs of Paris

Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Luke Tomes

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs of Paris (Les Catacombes de Paris) came into use as a burial place for Parisian bones in the eighteenth century following the overpopulation of Parisian cemeteries and the closure of the Cemetery of Innocents (Les Innocents).

The Catacombs of Paris history

The Catacombs are underground quarries encompassing a portion of Paris’ old mines near Place Denfert-Rochereau and, at the time, were outside the city gates.

The official decision to use the quarries was made on 9 November 1785 and they were blessed on 7 April 1786, following which bones from the Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs cemetery were moved there. Further remains were amassed at the Catacombs of Paris over the years, including those who died in several riots during the French Revolution.

At first, the bones were deposited in a rather haphazard manner and the ossuary simply piled up. Eventually, they were organized and displayed in the way that you see them today.

Since the first day they were complete, the Catacombs have been an object of curiosity, even for royalty. In 1787, Lord of d’Artois, who became King Charles X, went down there with the ladies from the Court. In 1814, François 1st, Emperor of Austria, went to visit and explore them while he was in Paris.

In 1860, Napoleon III went there with his son. The catacomb walls are also covered in graffiti dating from the eighteenth century. Everyone has left their mark on this place. Towards the end of the 18th century, the catacombs became a tourist attraction and have been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867.

In slighlty more recent history, the series of tunnels that are connected to the Catacombs were used by the French Resistance in World War Two, and rave parties flourished there during the 1990s. Victor Hugo also used his knowledge about the tunnel system when he wrote Les Misérables. In 1871, communards killed a group of monarchists in one chamber.

The Catacombs of Paris today

Overall, approximately six million human skeletons lie within the Catacombs of Paris.

In the dark galleries and narrow passages, you’ll see bones arranged in a macabre display. The Catacombs are eerie, quiet, dark, damp, and slighly depressing. Nonetheless, the fascinating, unusual and somewhat haunting tourist attraction that is The Catacombs of Paris is well worth a visit for those who are not claustrophobic or easily spooked.

A tour of the Catacombs takes approximately an hour and involves climbing 83 steps.

Getting to The Catacombs of Paris

The address of The Catacombs is 1 av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy 75014 Paris. If travelling via Metro or Réseau Express Régional, Denfert-Rochereau is the closest station to the site. If travelling via Bus use routes 38 or 68.

For those visiting the catacombs via car, there is paid parking at Boulevard Saint-Jacques (roughly at 10 minute walk away).

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