Paris is one of the most touristic cities in the world, so you probably already know what the must-see sites are during your visit to the city. But in the “City of Lights,” there are several ideal sites for horror fans, which also take us to the dark and dark times of the city. The Catacombs of Paris are undoubtedly one of the most special, strange, and creepy sites in the city. So What are Paris Catacombs? What makes this historical site so unique? And how can you see it?
Paris Catacombs: Millions of Bones, One Burial Site
The catacombs of Paris are among the most famous burial sites in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. This is an extensive network of tunnels and rooms located dozens of meters below the surface of the ground in Paris. There you will find the remains of – note – approximately six million bodies according to estimates (almost three times the population of the French capital today!), including some of the greatest figures of the French Revolution. The tunnels are scattered all over the city, even if you can only tour a small section of it.
The history of Paris Catacombs takes us back to the 18th century, or to 1786 to be more precise. During this period, the sanitation situation in the French capital was a real catastrophe. The residents were buried in cemeteries, the most famous of which is called the “Cemetery of the Innocents”, as well as in churchyards throughout the city, in hospitals, and other places. The problem is that the dead, literally, began to overflow. In what seems like a scene from an apocalyptic horror movie, the burial places were filled. The residents came across bodies in the streets, and houses near the cemeteries collapsed due to the pressure of the bodies on them. During the floods, their remains arrived at various points around the city. including near the wholesale market in the city. You don’t have to be a sanitation expert to know the risks of this.
Why Were The Paris Catacombs Built?
The first step of the Parisians was to open new cemeteries, in the suburbs of the city. But it wasn’t enough, because there were already millions of bodies buried all over the city. The solution came from an unexpected place, and it is the city’s system of mines that were used to extract limestone from which the old and traditional houses of the city were built.
When buildings erected above the mines began to collapse due to damage to their foundations, since their location above empty canals, the idea arose to create a system of tunnels that would connect them and thus contribute to strengthening the quarries. They quickly realized that this system of underground tunnels could be the solution to the problem of the dead, and began to move the remains from the various burial sites in Paris here, in a religious ceremony. The operation was done secretly, at night, but over time the rumor about the secret burial place began to gather momentum.
Moving forward to the 19th century. The captains of Paris realized that such a unique site also has tourist potential. The superintendent of the mines at the time, Louis Edin de Toury, invested efforts in organizing the bones in an orderly, even creative way. He also added the sign identified with the place to this day, which is “You are entering the kingdom of the dead” (originally: “Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort”). And apparently, the kingdom of the dead attracts dozens of visitors. Today it is one of the most popular attractions in town, so you can expect waiting times and heavy traffic in some cases.
Culture Of Horror
The creepy setting of the catacombs in Paris is reminiscent of a horror movie, so it is not surprising that they receive a place of honor in various cultural texts. Anyone who has read Victor Hugo’s famous book, “Wretches of Life”, encountered detailed descriptions of those who knew the catacombs system well.
Horror fans enjoyed discovering “As above, So Below” in 2014, an American found footage shot entirely in the catacombs, with a rather unusual approval from the French government. This Paris Catacombs horror movie is about a group of archaeologists who go to the catacombs in search of Nicholas Plummer’s Philosopher’s Stone – yes, the one from the first book in the “Harry Potter” series – and, as expected, encounter unusual and supernatural occurrences under the surface until some of them reaching Paris Catacombs lowest level, which ended in a surprise.
The film is Far from perfect, but he does manage to convey some of the feelings of being in these underground tunnels. The filming conditions here were quite complex due to the difficulty of inserting props or connecting to electricity. One of the actors, according to reports, suffered from Claustrophobia which caused the need for repeated breaks in filming.
There are other movies about Paris Catacombs, some horror films: This is the location where the vampires live in “Interview with a Vampire”. You can see it as well in horror games, in music videos (for example, by Velvet Revolver, although the music video was filmed in Hollywood studios inspired by the catacombs and not on the site itself), in books, and more.
How Big Are The Paris Catacombs? And How Can You Visit it?
The “official” tour of the Paris Catacombs takes place in a very short section of the tunnels: only about 1.7 kilometers. Paris Catacombs entrance is under the 14th arrondissement of the city. To put it bluntly, the tunnels are spread over about 300 kilometers (!) and are under a large part of the Parisian districts, mainly on the left bank, and it’s easy to get lost there even if you have a Paris Catacombs Map.
The tour, which lasts about two hours, departs from Denfert-Rochereau square and includes a total of 131 steps on the way down and a slightly smaller number on the way back up. The tour offers a walk through the underground tunnels for several hundred meters until you reach the icing on the cake, which is the rooms of bones and skulls that are arranged in some cases in different geometric shapes.
How To Buy Paris Catacombs Tickets?
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It’s highly recommended to buy tickets for the Catacombs of Paris from the Internet – for example through the popular website Tiquets – while coordinating the time of the visit according to the available dates. In this way, you will get an exemption from a significant part of the waiting in line, which may last about 2-3 hours during busy periods, in the open air. Please note that you buy this way Paris Catacombs skip the line tickets, and you can present it with your phone for easy access.
Paris Catacombs tickets include the audio guide, partly in the English language, which adds to the experience of the visit because the explanatory signs that exist in the place are few and mainly in the French language. Using the guide, you can understand, for example, the exact origin of the bones placed in a specific room and learn more about the conditions that led to the creation of this unusual burial place and how the “operation” was carried out. Other, more expensive options are to book a guided tour or even a private one.
If you buy tickets Paris Catacombs separately, the duration of the visit is about 45 minutes.
Paris Catacombs Hours:
The site is open most days of the year, from Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays and holidays) between 9:45 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Last admission – 7:30 a.m. We reccomend checking specific Paris Catacombs Opening Hours before arriving.
Paris Catacombs Prices:
Paris Catacombs ticket prices (as of 2022) through the official website are 29 euros for an adult (including an audio guide), 27 euros for a discounted ticket, and 5 euros for children aged 4-17. During some days of the year, you can buy through the website – but not at the box office – last-minute tickets at a discounted rate of 13-15 euros for an adult, plus 5 euros for an audio guide. On these dates, children up to the age of 18 enter for free.
The problem is that the number of tourists in the place is wide, and it can only accommodate up to 200 visitors at a given moment, so we would not recommend you buy paris catacombs tickets in advance.
Important Tips For Exploring Paris Catacombs
- Visit the Catacombs of Paris, naturally, is not intended for children. If you still intend to challenge them, please note that a child under the age of 14 must enter under the full supervision of an adult
- Since you are in dark underground tunnels, you can expect a cool temperature that is usually around 14 degrees Celsius. Please dress accordingly, it is also recommended to wear closed and non-slip shoes
- It is forbidden to enter the catacombs with food, drinks, large bags, suitcases, etc. If you still arrive with a small bag that meets rather strict requirements, they will check it for you at the exit to make sure you did not take a skull or other remains as a “souvenir”
- The place is not suitable for people with disabilities or those with mobility problems, mainly because the descent to the tunnels is made through steep spiral stairs. The visit is not recommended for pregnant women, people suffering from claustrophobia
Illegal Paris Catacombs Tourism? No Thanks!
If you thought that the visit to the tunnels takes place only as part of the tours, think again. Several hundred years ago, underground Paris Catacombs became a hiding place, including during World War II: among other things, by members of the French resistance and even the German army, which operated a well-hidden bunker here. Today, at the same time as inspection and stabilization works are constantly being done to prevent collapses and further troubles, the “underground” tourism around the tunnels is celebrating.
You can find illegal Paris Catacombs entry points at different points in the city, through the metro stations, sewers, and other places. Although it is very easy to get lost or encounter various problems – for example, low, flooded sections or those that include infrastructure that makes it difficult to pass – many come here and wander. Over the years they discovered that acts of vandalism were committed here, parties were held here and they even set up an underground movie theater with an attached bar. So much so that in Paris there is a special police force operating in the catacombs, which may issue a fine of around 60 euros to each illegal visitor (“catafil”, or “catacomb lover”).
We suggest you not choose this option, of course. Beyond the fact that this is a violation of the law, you don’t want to get involved with an underground site where the remains of millions of people are buried, do you?