Ouhhh it’s scary to go to the catacombs under the ground of Paris! Actually not so much, and the ride is very nice and historically enriching. So, you want a ride?
What are the catacombs of Paris?
Before sinking into the bowels and underground of Paris, it is still necessary to define exactly what the Parisian catacombs are. Is it a giant sewer system under the capital? Is this a buried cemetery? Is it a place full of history where we would sometimes party? Well, it’s a little of all that at once!
In the middle of the 18th century, the city of Paris undertook to take care of its quarries which already existed since the Middle Ages under the city, period when the basements of Lutèce were exploited in search of precious stones and metals. There are today 2 large underground quarries which are still in the state south of Paris, connected by dozens of galleries. These undergrounds built by man over the centuries rub shoulders with 2 other types of networks of the same type. The sewers of Paris, several thousand kilometres long, were set up by the Romans in the 13th century and fed by a new network in the 19th century. And the ossuary, places where were stored several times the bones of the dead of several Parisian cemeteries for various reasons.
It is this ensemble that is commonly known today as the catacombs of Paris. This represents a network several tens of kilometres below the capital normally closed to the public. Some, however, do not hesitate to carry a flashlight and go explore the underground of Paris at the risk of getting lost or arrested.
With a main entrance reserved for the reception of the public in the 14th arrondissement, it is possible for everyone to visit a part of the catacombs of Paris which includes one of the most beautiful ossuaries. This is where we went.
How to access the catacombs?
To get to the visitable part of the Paris catacombs, go to the 14th arrondissement of the capital, to the metro and RER Denfert-Rochereau stop. There, on this large square which is the crossing of several great boulevards, you should see the entrance of the catacombs: a Parisian green shed with a crowd of people queuing all around the square. Yes, there are people, always many people who wait to visit the catacombs. During the week, generally count 2 hours of waiting. Weekends are worse. Our little tricks to make the time shorter: go and look for a good crepe in one of the stands in front of the queue, get to know your neighbours or even better buy a queue-cutter ticket in advance.
Catacombs of Paris
1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau)
Denfert-Rochereau station (RER B, lines 4 and 6)
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 7.30pm.
Price: 13€ (Free for job seekers)
Line cutting tickets only available online (29€)
Our visit of the catacombs of Paris
After more than 2 hours of waiting in the rain and freezing cold (yes, we were unlucky that September afternoon), we finally reached the entrance of the catacombs not without excitement. Indeed, we have all long wanted to discover what lies beneath the city of Paris. The history of these places has something fascinating and the idea of being faced with hundreds of human bones several tens of metres underground is also gruesome. It is also by a long spiral staircase that begins the visit of the catacombs, enough to make us dizzy. 20 meters further down, we have access to some museum-type rooms where are exposed on the wall explanations on the history of the catacombs of Paris. A good way to quickly immerse yourself in the history of the place before entering the heart of the subject.
The entire visit takes place on a space that could be described as a straight line about 2km long. With a few zigzags here and there, you will nevertheless go straight and it is impossible to get lost in this marked course. After some explanations, we continue with 10 minutes walk in a long narrow gallery. Some little things are interesting to note. For example, the underground roads that we use in the catacombs of Paris are often located right under the Parisian streets and bear the same name. That was then, and still is today a very good way to find your way around. During our visit, some rusty grids prevent us from escaping by other ways and force us to follow the direction of the visit. But who knows where we’d go if we could use those passages!
“Stop it! This is the empire of death.” It is with these sweet words that we are welcomed at the end of these galleries and at the entrance of the ossuaries. Not very reassuring but what an atmosphere! And once inside this superb atmosphere is confirmed. There, piled one on top of the other, thousands of corpses have been waiting for decades. They were piled up there by Paris City Hall several times in order to empty the capital’s cemeteries. The latter had become disease infested or poorly frequented places of their choice. The transport of all those bodies couldn’t have been easy. Still, they’re all there aligned, the skull in front and the rest of the bones behind. The end of the visit takes place in the most total admiration of the place, with some rooms with older corpses, more damaged by time and humidity. Quotes from famous writers in connection with death also come here and there to enlighten our conscience and then it is already the end of the visit.
Finally this visit is not in our opinion gloomy at all but rather very informative and pleasant. One feels astonished enough at 20 meters under ground beside all these corpses. These were often visited by high authorities at a certain time and some events were organized there to testify to French ingenuity.