The Paris Catacombs
Deep beneath the romantic streets of Paris lie dark secrets and death. Long abandoned, ancient mining tunnels, stuffed with the skeletal remains of around 6 million dead people span for kilometers under Paris. These ghoulish, bone-ridden tunnels form the Paris Catacombs and allegedly contain the Gates to Hell.
The Paris Catacombs came to be after disease and many other misfortunes ravaged 18th century Paris. This inundated the growing city with human corpses. After the cemeteries of Paris begun to spill over with death, drastic measures were taken. Consequently, many bodies were exhumed from cemeteries and moved to the pre-existing mining networks below Paris.
Initially, the bones were stacked without organization or care, placed in the dark depths of these tunnels. They were later rearranged during the early 1800s to form macabre, yet beautifully elaborate patterned displays. Today, these ornate sections of the catacombs remain open to the public. Yet, there are far more extensive tunnel systems still containing bones that remain under Paris, unsafe and restricted to visit.
The Paris Catacombs Tourist Attraction
A small section of the Paris Catacombs is open to the general public. This section is safe to enter and contains the bone displays that are the most decorative. Visitors will descend a few stories underground via a maintained staircase. They will then walk through tunnels unguided for at least a half hour. Some history is explained about how the catacombs came to be via infographics and a small museum.
Thousands of bones are stacked and on display, for visitors to view as they walk through the tunnel path. These include inscriptions and a variety of different patterns. This is the place to see the most beautiful sections of the Paris Catacombs in a controlled and maintained environment.
Guided tours are available for an additional cost. Though, the self-guided tour allows visitors to peruse the displays at their own pace and leisure. Tickets can be purchased from the entrance and will set you back around €12. The temperature in this attraction is generally much cooler than at the surface. There is also a decent amount of walking to do, though nothing overly strenuous.
You will find the entrance to the Catacombs at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France.
Paris Catacombs Illegal Tunnels
Delving into the forbidden world of the Paris Catacombs illegal tunnels is a much different experience compared to the above. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are able, fit and daring enough.
This experience should only be undertaken with a trusted guide (otherwise known as a cataphile). Guides are difficult to come by and generally only able to be found by referral. Entry into the Catacombs must be swift and silent. Usually via a hole near a subway tunnel or via a manhole in the city. Be prepared to climb through uncomfortably tight holes, scale maintenance ladders and walk hunched over for long periods of time.
The tunnel system is vast and difficult to navigate. Street names on the ground above correlate to many of the tunnels underneath the ground. However, these deceivingly aren’t always straight forward to follow. My own guide navigated his way using a crude hand drawn set of maps. Most importantly, be prepared to get dirty, wet, yet not likely cold. These tunnel systems are much warmer than the tourist side.
What awaits visitors to these forbidden, unchartered tunnels of the Catacombs of Paris is plenty of adventure. Winding tunnels reveal exclusive and hidden hangouts for select Parisians. Within the catacombs are makeshift bars and seats crafted from limestone, complete with candelabras.
Venturing deeper reveals an increased amount of graffiti, yet also pieces of street art that are far more impressive. Upon reaching the bone chambers, creepier sights await. Here, tunnels completely stacked with crumbling bones exist. Macabre pieces of art have made use of these stray bones. For instance, a throne has been made of human bones/skulls and another piece resembles a scary looking spider creature.
Visiting the Offlimits Paris Catacombs
Unfortunately, I cannot share just how you can descend into this hidden world of tunnels and skeletons. I do urge would be explorers to proceed with caution. These tunnels are certainly difficult to navigate. To become lost, lose light and die within the depths of the Paris Catacombs isn’t unheard of.
If you are curious about learning the ghost stories of the Catacombs of Paris, check out this article.
Thanks for reading!