The underground catacombs of Paris are by far one of the most underrated spots to check out when you are in this city. If you have a thing for dark caves, history and weird phenomenons, this is definitely the attraction for you.
Although you would never know it from the surface, the catacombs are a literal bone graveyard found beneath France’s iconic city. Following a gruesome disease outbreak in Paris, due to the improper burial of dead corpses, the catacombs were designed as a respectful place to relocate the deceased in an attempt to control these infections. As a result, this eerie network of caves and tunnels was created in 1785 and stretches for miles under Paris. Held within the catacombs are the remains of over six million people stemming from five major surrounding graveyards.
While traveling abroad, Joey and I like to take the time and see some of the classical tourist landmarks. We also like to stray off the beaten path. The first time I had heard of the catacombs of Paris, was during my childhood watching the animated movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” I never actually fathomed that real live catacombs existed. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across the opportunity to visit them while doing our European trip planning.
The sun-soaked morning we decided to visit the catacombs of Paris, the weather was sweltering hot. It had been roasting all week – something we attributed to the last big heat wave of the summer.
Departing on foot, we snaked our way through the city. The catacombs were less popular when compared to some of the other Paris attractions, and because of this, we couldn’t find the underground entrance marked on our tourist map. As a result, we had to navigate using the street signs and the address provided on the website.
Once we reached the general vicinity of the Catacombs, it was much easier to find. Even though the entrance was a little hole-in-the-wall door that might have gone unnoticed, it had a hearty queue of tourists lined up along the sidewalk. The line twisted and bend around the block. Grumpily making our way to the back, this line seemed outrageous after having no line up for climbing the Eiffel tower.
Climbing the Eiffel Tower: The Eiffel Tower is probably the most famous landmark in the world, let alone France. Check out our experience and complete guide on what to expect when climbing Paris’s Eiffel Tower on foot.
As the line moved forward, we passed a local street artist with a booth set up on the sidewalk. This talented gentleman busied himself making silhouette cutouts of the waiting Catacomb tourist as they passed. His artistry was neat to watch, so when our turn came, it was a no-brainer. We paid him €2.00 each to study and cut out our side profiles. After about five minutes he created very impressive replicas of our faces – a memorable piece of artwork that we will always cherish from the streets of Paris.
It cost each person €12.00 to get into the Catacombs. After paying our entrance fee and getting a stern warning not to disturb or steal anything, we descended the stairs into the uncanny darkness. As soon as we reached the bottom of the stairs, I could sense the chilly feel of death in the air.
Once our eyes adjusted to the low lighting of the velvet underground, we made our way forward towards the main crypt. The catacombs sand and stone walls guided us to the entrance. Upon entering through the archway of the crypt, the sand and stone walls turned to bone and we got our first taste of this grim place.
In hushed silence, Joey and I walked through the tunnels looking at the millions of bones making up the walls of the catacombs. It left us with dropped jaws. Each wall along the pathway had been carefully constructed specifically using tibia, femur and humerus bones coupled with a row of deformed and decrepit skulls. The appearance was positively morbid.
Having 206 bones in the human body, I knew there was going to be a decent amount of bones in the catacombs. What I hadn’t wrapped my head around, is what 206 bones times six million people would look like. For quick math’s sake, it’s a buttload! Beyond the narrow walkway that visitors take when they wander through the catacombs, there is a sea of bones that fills the tunnels way back, as far as my eyes could see.
During our casual stroll through the Catacomb bone graveyard, Joey and I made friends with one of the security guards. He was stationed in the crypt monitoring all tourists passing through. The guard was kind enough to tell us all sorts of information on the discarded human skulls. He even showed us a baby skull – noting how the top of the head still had a hole from birth.
On our way out of the catacombs, two more security guards stood at the exit door monitoring everyone leaving. Beside them was a table filled with skulls, small bones and teeth. These items had been found that very day, on visitors as they left the catacombs. Apparently, picture memories are no longer enough – visitors feel the need to loot and steal a historic tomb for keepsakes. It’s saddening that such a mysterious and sacred place cannot be respected, for others to come and appreciate.
It may have been a long wait to get in, but after having toured the catacombs, it was well worth the time. This site was definitely my absolute favourite site we visited while in Paris. We spent a decent amount of time in the tunnels below the city. The catacomb’s history, intrigue and off-the-beaten-path nature made this location such a joy to visit.
What was your favourite landmark in Paris? Have you had the chance to visit the catacombs and if so did you find it as amazing and creepy as us?
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