Les Catacombes de Paris

Les Catacombes de Paris (49)

At the same time as Paris was growing as a city above ground, it was also growing below. And today you have the possibility of discovering all the underground world, since guided visits are organised.

Although not suitable for all the public, above all for the more sensitive, a visit to the catacombs is really interesting. They have become one of the most famous cemeteries in Paris. 

It consists of a network of tunnels and underground chambers in which, during the Roman era, there were limestone mines. The mines were turned into a common cemetery at the end of the 18th century.

In 1786 an ambitious project for the city was undertaken, to put an end to the health and hygiene problems that the overflowing cemeteries of Paris represented. For example, the district of Les Halles suffered illnesses for the incorrect handling of bodies from the Saints Innocents cemetery.

Thousands of skulls and bones were removed from the cemetery and transferred to the tunnels of the old quarries. 

Gradually, the remains of about 6 million Parisians from many different cemeteries accumulated here.

It took 15 months to move the bones and decomposed bodies in huge carriages across the city. The work was done at night. 

Shortly before the Revolution, the Count of Artois, who would later be Charles X, organised parties in the catacombs. The catacombs had become a macabre attraction for the Parisians. A century later, a clandestine concert held in the catacombs in 1897 was the talk of the town in Paris at the time. And during the Second World War the French Resistance established their general headquarters here.

After the cleaning and conditioning work, the catacombs were opened to the public on the 14th of June 2005. Only one and a half kilometres can be visited of the more than 300 kilometres that it possesses in total.

You cannot wander around the catacombs without an official guide, and you can even be fined if you do so. The system of tunnels is too complex and it is very easy to get lost and there are very narrow and low tunnels that easily flood. Moreover, not that many years ago, the Parisian authorities discovered that inside the catacombs sinister rites were performed, such as black masses, and today youngsters run through them in search of thrills. This is why a special police force was formed to patrol the catacombs. 

However, there are secret entrances throughout Paris, which enables one to enter the catacombs via the drains, the metro...

Nevertheless, we recommend you go on the official visit, after descending some 20 metres by its 130 steps, a very special visit awaits you, where you will find, for example, one of the most impressive parts of the catacombs: circular gallery of tibias, also known as the crypt of passion. A thin column supports a structure made up of bones and skulls. 

There you have it then. If you want to discover this part of the history of Paris, make sure you visit them, and do not be intimidated by the poster at the entrance of the catacombs that warns the visitor: “Stop! This is the empire of death”.

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