Catacombs of Paris
I have always loved venturing to out of the ordinary tourist attractions (especially spooky ones) and the Catacombs of Paris France surely did not disappoint. Deep underneath the streets of Paris, lay the ‘Catacombes de Paris’ A network of tunnels and caves that cover an area of over 200 miles, filled mostly with the bones and skulls of over 6million people.
The Catacombs of Paris were created to help with the overcrowding in cemeteries in Paris during the 18th century. There is only a small section (around 2km) that is open to the public to explore. I still remember the first time that I heard about the catacombs. Having only just arrived from Australia (or known here in England as ‘Fresh off the boat’).
I was travelling through Paris for the first time on a Contiki tour and I overheard someone explaining how they had visited this place underneath Paris full of human bones. I couldn’t believe at the time, what I was hearing, and knew I needed to go check it out for myself.
After waiting an hour in line to enter (with my morning coffee); I purchased my ticket (€8) and headed on down the spiral staircase and through some empty tunnels. It seemed to take forever and I was starting to wonder when I was ever going to see the bones. As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I turned the corner and in front of me, in the dimly lit tunnel, were rows of bones and skulls; some neatly organised and some just piled together. It clearly unsettled me, but once I got my composure back together, I continued on my way.
Only a small number of people are allowed in at one time, so silence experienced deep in tunnels cannot be replicated anywhere else. The more I explored, the more at ease I became with my surroundings. You get a great sense of how long and creepy these tunnels really are, and how they cover such a large section of the underground of Paris, especially when you look down the closed of areas where they just disappear into complete darkness.
As I made my way through various sections of the tunnels, I was surprised by the occasional piece of elaborate modern street art, created using some of the bones. Usually I would think it would be inhumane to do this with human bones however it was very fascinating to see. Every corner I turned was another section of bones to explore. Before I knew it, I was at the end of my journey heading back up the stairs to the exit and what felt like going back to reality and daylight.
How to get there:
You can catch the local metro to Place Denfert-Rochereau (lines 4 & 6), which is about 50 metres from the main entrance. There are many hidden entrances all over Paris but there is only one main entrance for visitors to enter legally.
- The tunnel is around 2km long, and is only one way, so the entrance is in a different part of Paris than the exit. As mentioned above, they only allow a certain number of people in at a time, so it is advisable that you get there early as your wait can be up to 2-3 hrs during the peak period.
- There are not that many information points within the tunnels (it is hard to read in the dark anyway) but if you would like to know more, they have audio guides available to hire or guide books to buy at the entrance.
- Flash photography is not allowed so If you like to take photos, you will need to make sure that you have a night setting on your camera/smartphone.
- As the catacombs are underneath the ground and the only way down is stairs, I am unaware if there is any wheelchair access. There are a number of tour groups that you can take, allowing you to skip the line but I recommend saving the money and doing it yourself.
- Do not pick up or touch the bones or skulls. Firstly, it is disrespectful, and secondly, you are not allowed and if caught will be asked to leave.
- The tunnels are a little claustrophobic, so be warned that once you are down in the catacombs, and if it gets too much for you, you cannot really turn back.
- Much of the catacombs are out of bounds to the public, making it illegal to explore. Those caught exploring unauthorised sections of the network could end up paying a hefty fine.
- You can purchase your ticket online and skip the crowds: http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/visit/access-opening-times-accessibility
Would I recommend it
I think people, in general, are fascinated with death. They don’t know what it’s about and everyone has their own theory on what happens to us when we die. Seeing all the bones in various shapes and piled together was a little gruesome, but intriguing at the same time.
It is fascinating to understand the French way of solving the age old problem of overcrowding in cemeteries, without knowing in years to come that it would become a tourist attraction, as well as prevention to the construction of high-rise buildings within central Paris due to the possibility of the ground collapsing.
The Catacombs are not for everyone, especially the faint-hearted. I would recommend visiting them especially if you are into history, something different or generally just want a little fright. Personally I do not think it is child friendly for obvious reasons but it is always up to the parent to decide. Next time you are in Paris and you are standing on the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triumph, have a look and see if you can notice the buildings on the outskirts of town, and remember that at some level beneath you are the catacombs.
Thank you for reading this article ‘Enter if you DARE!!!” – Catacombs of Paris France’, I hope it helped you to decide to go there when in Paris France. The Catacombs of Paris is definitely an interest and scary place to visit.
Have you been to Catacombs Paris France before? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
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Disclaimer: I paid to go to the Catacombs Paris over 5years ago. All views are my own and based on my own experience.