Paris Travel Planner   Les Catacombes, Paris, France
Lots of bones to see in this underground ossuary, home of millions of permanent Parisians.




As you enter Les Catacombes de Paris, having walked down 130 steps below street level, you're greeted with the cheery message, "Arrête: C'est ici l'Empire de la Mort," which means "Stop: This is the Empire of Death."

Indeed, the catacombs are estimated to hold the remains of 6 to 7 million Parisians. That's a lot of bones!

Since Gallo-Roman times there were limestone and gypsum quarries in this area, and the mining activity continued until the early 1800s.

But in the late 1700s, concern was raised about the Cemetery of the Innocents, near St-Eustache Church and Les Halles. The cemetery had been in use for about ten centuries, and it was causing health problems for people in the area.

The decision was made to move the remains to the underground quarries, after the quarries were consecrated. Transfer of the remains began on April 7, 1786. It took two years to move all of the remains, always at night and in a ceremony lead by priests.

After those initial deposits, additional remains from other Paris cemeteries were transferred to the catacombs, until 1814. During the Revolution, some people went directly from the guillotine to the catacombs, including Robespierre and Danton.

Called "catacombs" (spelled catacombes in French) based on an ancient Roman cemetery, this large ossuary is quite an amazing place to visit. Be prepared to go down stairs (130 down, 83 back up), walk about 2 kilometers through the maze of paths, and emerge into the light of day several blocks from where you entered.

You might want to go on a hot day, as the temperature is about 57F (14C). The visit takes about 45 minutes.

Along the way you'll see sculptures, inscriptions, and crosses. But mostly you'll see bones—leg bones, skulls, bones of all shapes and sizes, crammed in together. Yes, these are all bones:

Bones, Catacombs, Paris

It's an interesting visit, if a bit macabre. And certainly unusual!

Since 2002 the Catacombs have been considered part of the Carnavalet Museum. Renovations in 2008 opened some galleries that had not previously been accessible. And in 2021 the catacombs reopened after having been closed for a while. New offerings include an on-line visit, as well as in-person visits.

Métro: Denfert-Rochereau
RER: Denfert-Rochereau

Les Catacombes de Paris
1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau—with the large statue of the lion of Belfort)
75014 Paris
+33 (0)1 43 22 47 63

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Skulls, Catacombs, Paris

Above, Friends forever in the Catacombs.

Below, Sculpture in the Catacombs.

Sculpture, Catacombs, Paris

Denfert-Rochereau, paris, France

Above, the Lion of Belfort at the Place Denfert-Rochereau, near the entrance to the Catacombs.


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