The Catacombs of Paris are the dark underworld of the City of Light hiding many secrets. With the remains of over six million people, it has been called the world’s largest grave.
The Paris Catacombs, or Catacombes de Paris, are a network of old caves, quarries, and tunnels stretching hundreds of kilometers, and seemingly lined with the bones of the dead. Although the site is open to the general public today, access is limited to only a small section of the network.
Planning to travel to Paris soon? In this article, you will find useful information about the Paris Catacombs: from interesting facts to opening hours, entry fee and more.
Visiting the Paris Catacombs
“They were what we are,
Dust, toy of the wind;
Fragile like men,
Weak like nothingness.”
–Alphonse de Lamartine
I have always enjoyed visiting unusual places like this. That is not only extremely interesting but also broadens the horizons.
Visiting the Paris Catacombs was definitely an extraordinary experience, although I would not recommend it to claustrophobic people, young children, and individuals who may be disturbed by the site.
The skeletons of dead people on the site are on display for the world to see like paintings in the Louvre – they were placed there quite carefully and respectfully.
The skull of an aristocrat may be resting on the leg of a revolutionary; wealthy and poor, young and old, virtuous and sinful, all are indistinguishable now. It can give you an entirely new perspective on the concept of human equality.
The Paris Catacombs are fascinating from a historical perspective and there are numerous panels (in French and English) explaining the reasons for the existence of the underground ossuary as well as listing the famous people whose remains have been deposited here.
Where is the Paris Catacombs?
The Catacombs are located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, France, on the left bank of the Seine, in the southern part of the city.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to the Catacombs is by metro. If you take either the metro line 4 or 6, it will get you to the Denfert-Rochereau station – the closest metro stop to the entrance to the Catacombs.
Address: 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris
Coordinates: 48° 50′ 2.184” N, 2° 19′ 55.2” E
Depth: 20 meters/ 66 feet
Temperature: 14°C/ 57°F
Duration: 45 minutes
Length: 1.5 kilometers/ 0.9 miles
Opening times & Admission prices
Tuesday to Sunday: 10.00–20.30; the ticket window closes at 19.30.
Closed on Monday and certain holidays: January 1, May 1 and December 25.
Entrance fee: 14 € (full), 12 € (reduced), 17 € (dual)
Interesting facts about the Paris Catacombs
- Between 1786 and 1859, the bones of the dead were transferred from the overcrowded parochial cemeteries of Paris to the Tombe-Issoire limestone quarries (this natural resource has been in use since the time of the Romans and provided construction material for the city’s buildings – Notre-Dame Cathedral and all the Gothic churches in Paris were built with this stone) turning them into the Paris Catacombs.
- The site was opened to the public visitation in 1809.
- In total, the Catacombs stretch over 300 kilometers (186 miles). Only a small portion of the tunnels is open to visitors.
- Since 2013, the site number among the 14 City of Paris Museums.
- Approximately 550,000 people visit the Catacombs annually.
The Lutetian period
Between street level and the bottom of the Catacombs, the visitor is taking back nearly 45 million years in time – there is a bed of limestone which corresponds to a geological period called the Lutetian. During this period, the Paris region was gradually invaded by the sea advancing from the north of Europe. The sea was shallow and warm, with a tropical climate and very diverse flora and fauna including a big sea snail (over 70 cm/2 ft long) called the Campanile giganteum.
The Quarrymen’s Footbath
The Quarrymen’s Footbath, or Bain de pieds des carriers, is a well of crystal clear groundwater. The water was used by workers mixing cement required during works in the Catacombs. It is said to be the site of the first geological drilling in Paris.
Port Mahon fort sculpture
The sculpture was created between 1777 and 1782 by Décure, an old veteran from King Louis XV’s army, who became quarryman in the Catacombs. It represents the Port Mahon fort on Minorca in the Balearic Islands, Spain, where Décure had been imprisoned by the English for five years.
In 1786, an 11000 square meters (120,000 square feet) space was prepared in the ancient quarries to house the remains. After that date, bones and skulls from more than 150 graveyards of monasteries, convents, and churches in Paris were added to the underground ossuary. The transfer of these remains continued until 1859.
At the beginning of the 19th century, burial grounds started to become scarce in Paris, and new cemeteries were created outside the city limits: Père Lachaise (established in 1804), Passy (1820), Montparnasse (1824), and Montmartre (1925).
I hope you enjoyed my guide to visiting the Paris Catacombs! Please share it with your friends on your social media. Here are a few more informative and interesting articles that I recommend you read next:
- Montmartre Cemetery: The last final resting place of many famous Parisians
- Daugavpils Fortress: A 19th century fortification in Latvia
- Vilnius Artillery Bastion: A Renaissance-style fortification in Lithuania
Have you been to Paris? Have you visited the Paris Catacombs recently? If so, what did you think of the experience? Feel free to post a comment below.