The catacombs of Paris are old limestone mines—the materials were used to create some of Paris’ most iconic buildings above ground.
Photo by Alex Guevara/Shutterstock
In the 14th district of Paris are the Catacombs, also known as the underground ossuary (or l’Ossuaire Municipal) where 6 million skeletons are stacked in an orderly fashion and date back several centuries ago. This was done because Paris cemeteries were running out of space while the city itself was expanding, thus it was agreed to move each cemetery’s collection of skeletons underground. It is an eerie place to visit and I wouldn’t recommend it is for the faint of heart. Still, not a sight to miss. People like Charles 10, François the 1st (Emperor of Austria), Napoleon III and his son all took a stroll through the long and ominous halls of the Catacombs to pay a visit. It really is a sight like no other, and is great to visit if you’ve already seen all the main tourist sites, or even a rainy afternoon to escape dreary weather. It was interesting to discover the cause of death by looking at some of these skulls. In this particular picture I captured a skull which did not die of a natural cause. It had a perfect circle in the left cheek, indicating a gunshot wound. It was a scary discovery, but I felt compelled to photograph it. Tickets are either 8 Euros full price, 4 Euros for youth tickets (age 14-26), and free 13 and under.
Learn more about the history of the Paris Catacombs in this article.
Explore the Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs of Paris is an underground ossuary in Paris that houses the remains of nearly six million people. Back in 1786, the entire underground population of Paris’ cemeteries was relocated to quarry tunnels outside the city limits. Visitors can now explore the caverns and tunnels where the bodies were relocated. This is one of the creepiest yet most interesting landmarks. The Catacombs were long sealed off to the public but guests are now invited to head down hundreds of stairs into a subterranean labyrinth to view room after room filled with human remains, which are stacked upon each other in perfect symmetry. This attraction is not for the faint-hearted. However, after you’ve seen a few rooms of these macabre hallways you grow numb to the horror and shock that these bones actually belonged to someone and are simply able to soak in this dark landmark’s history, which began nearly two centuries ago. Tickets here are only about $10 and I highly recommend paying a few extra dollars and getting an audio guide. There is virtually no information about the Catacombs once you have begun your journey and it’s a shame to come here and not find out what you’re looking at.
The Largest Necropolis in the World
Six million skeletons live underground the streets of Paris. All the human bones are painstakingly stacked and arranged, except for the random pelvis thrown on top of skulls. Try to find two of the skulls with teeth. Super duper line, so be prepared to wait (we waited an hour) and be entertained by gypsies trying to pull one over you.
Touring the Paris Catacombs
Despite the long lines (almost a 90-minute wait when I went in October), the catacombs were definitely a sight worth seeing. The “Empire of the Dead,” as the sign proclaims, is as morbidly fascinating as one would think. Artistically arranged human bones and skulls line the walls of these dark tunnels under the city of light, accompanied by plaques bearing philosophical quotes, biblical verses, or the original resting places of the bones displayed. Though the site is certainly a must-see for lovers of history, archaeology, or all things morbid, this city of bones is not for the faint of heart!