First of all, a word of warning. Very tall people, you’ll be stooping quite a bit down here …
Arrête! C’est ici, l’empire du mort
You’ll come across this quotation after descending some 20 metres under the pavements of Paris.
In Roman times the catacombs had been quarries, but in the 18th century bones began to be deposited from overground, overflowing graveyards such as Les Innocents.
Cemeteries were no longer wanted in the city of Paris.
These old places were destroyed and three grand new suburban graveyards were built to accommodate Paris’s newly dead, but the bones had to go somewhere. So they became walls of bones, put together using a dry-stone walling technique.
With an estimated 6,000,000 people in the tunnels, their remains organised almost artistically, it was in fact a tourist attraction from as early as the first half of the 19th century.
Today, the official route is around a mile long, although there are many more miles-worth of tunnel not accessible to the general public. That hasn’t stopped them trying, mind. (See this story in the Guardian about an underground cinema being uncovered in 2004.)
It’s a surprisingly beautiful, if eery place and the weight of history and extinguished life looms all around.
And as I mentioned at the start, tall people, you’ll be walking out with a slight stoop. And along with everyone else you’ll leave the catacombs slightly relieved to be out in the sunlight.
Read a great “true” ghost story about the catacombs.
1, Avenue Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy
Tel: 01 43 22 47 63
Getting to the catacombs:
Metro and RER b: Denfert-Rochereau
Bus: 38, 68
10am to 5pm except Monday. Last admission 6pm.