Paris, one of the more popular tourist destinations around the world, holds many world renowned sights, museums and attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and so many more to entertain you for days. You can find more information about what to do above ground throughout this wonderful city in other posts on this blog. This time we’ll be heading underground to one of the spookiest places underneath Paris.
As one of the alternative attractions found in Paris, the Catacombs always attract quite the crowd so to minimise your waiting time make sure to purchase tickets online or at the opening/closing times because they only allow 200 visitors to explore the Catacombs at one time. Being an unprepared traveller myself, I highly recommend you check out the official website and purchase your tickets (here – http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/en/homepage-catacombs-official-website) before hand to avoid waiting in line for hours on end.
Due to the limit of visitors allowed to enter at one time, the staff may make you wait for some people to leave the Catacombs to even out the flow of tourists. To be prepared before going underground you should be aware of a few things (the following information has been collected from the official Catacombs website):
- There is no toilet
- There is no cloakroom facilitates available (this may be a positive due to the low temperatures inside the Catacombs).
- There are 130 steps on the way down and 83 on the way back up.
- The tour is estimated to take 45 minutes and covers approximately 1.5km.
Catacombs typically refer to a type of burial ground found underground, there are plenty to visit throughout Europe and many other countries worldwide. The ones found underneath Paris are no exception, they were not the original ones either. The Cemetery of the Innocents, one of the many cemeteries and graveyards throughout the city, was used for for approximately 1000 years before the Council of State decided to prohibit any further use due to the spread of illness and disease. It wasn’t until 1787 that all the cemeteries in Paris begun transferring the remains of the dead which continued until 1814, effectively creating the interesting tourist attraction we can visit today.
Being such an old and important part of the Paris, the Catacombs has a history involving a number of interesting facts. For example, the Catacombs have collected the remains of approximately six million people, the entrance guard during the French Revolution got lost and was found dead 11 years later, you can find his grave in the place his body was found today. There have been many famous visitors such as Napoleon, the Emperor of Austria and Madame de Guiche to name a few.
Following in the footsteps of those who have explored the Catacombs before you, take the 130 steps heading underground. Make your way along the access tunnels where you will see inscriptions referring to the street names above, a sculpture of the Port Mahon Palace in Minorca, Spain which was sculpted by memory by a worker who died while working on an access tunnel, and an underground well with turquoise water.
Coming to the sign ‘Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort’ (‘Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead’), this is where the tour gets interesting! The tunnels you are walking down are now holding bones, all neatly stacked upon one another roughly 5 feet high and an estimated 2 meters deep. Take the chance to get as close as you dare but be wary of touching the remains out of respect. As you make your way though the Catacombs take note of the morbid artwork where those who arranged the bones in a more pleasing manner made the occasional display.
Throughout the Catacombs you will stumble across prayer rooms and various artefacts that give evidence that the prayer rooms associated with some of the churches who moved their graves underground and possibly even find the dates engraved somewhere nearby. After a while you will notice that the tunnels are taking you in an upward direction, the smell of fresh air (which is something you’ll miss while exploring the Catacombs) and eventually the light of day signalling the end of your underground journey.
A common theme with tourist attractions around the world is to only make selected parts or the best parts accessible to the public. It goes without saying that there are multiple entrances to the Catacombs throughout the city with endless passage ways for people to explore, although this is illegal there are a group called the ‘Cataphiles’ who explore the tunnels at any given opportunity. Since these tunnels were put to use in other ways such as to grow mushrooms, make alcoholic drinks or provide a safe space to hide from the enemies during World War 2, to name a few.
Once your done exploring the Catacombs head back above ground and start exploring Montparnasse, drop by one of the many cafes or brasseries to reflect on what you’ve just experienced to help bring your day out of the doom and gloom found beneath the surface.
I hope this has intrigued you enough to plan a visit to the Catacombs in Paris on your next visit, it’s something you will be talking about for years afterwards! I know there are plenty of other Catacombs and similar places around the world, feel free to share your favourites in the comments below.