Visit the Paris catacombs with an all-inclusive ticket

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

Take an unusual tour of Paris’s catacombs in the 14th-century municipal ossuary, with the added bonus of girl’s tickets!

Paris was an overcrowded city in the late 1700s. Its population was booming, demanding both housing and burial sites. The city’s churches maintained their own intramural cemeteries, but they were overcrowded and unsanitary. To free up space with high real-estate value and get rid of health hazards, the city decided to dig up all the graves.

In 1786, city employees dug up all the graves in Paris cemeteries and moved the remains into the tunnels of abandoned quarries outside the city limits (at the time). It took them two years, but all the deceased were moved into these galleries, known as catacombs. The city would later use the bones to create meticulously layered walls and structures that are impressive if totally creepy. Imagine all the lives these bones represent (6 million people), a 1,200-year history in the catacombs.

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

Flickr – Newbold Bohemia

You can visit the catacombs for €10. The more adventurous among you can discover some of the city’s tunnels illegally. However, a 1955 law will « charge » you €100 to enter the catacombs illegally, and special police officers will stop you. They’re called cataflics.

To enter the catacombs like everyone else, you’ll have to descend 18 meters underground, via a steep, narrow spiral staircase. A walk down a long corridor leads to a metal door, the entrance to the ossuary, where this inscription by Jacques Delille greets you:  » Arrète, c’est ici l’Empire de la Mort  » ( » Stop, this is the Empire of Death « ). Here you are in the ossuary.

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

Flickr – Jean-David & Anne-Laure

During the Second World War, French resistance fighters took advantage of the 290 kilometers of tunnels to evade the Germans, who had built a bunker under the Lycée Montaigne.

When the catacombs were built, they were simply intended to hold bones. No provision had been made for arranging them in any way. In 1820, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury pushed through a renovation that transformed the catacombs into the works of art they are today. He used the decorations on cemetery tombstones to create the walls and other « decorations ».

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

The passageway known as the double quarries precedes the ossuary – Flickr – Jean-David & Anne-Laure

Before the catacombs were built, Parisians buried their dead on the outskirts of the capital. When Christianity conquered the country, everyone wanted to be buried on land consecrated by the clergy. Church cemeteries had difficulty burying a growing population over the centuries, and it wasn’t long before only the wealthy could afford to be buried.

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

The Port-Mahon sculptures were carved by a quarryman named Décure, a veteran of Louis XV’s armies. Here a model of the fortress of Port-Mahon, the main town on the island of Menorca, where he was imprisoned by the English – Flickr – Jean-David & Anne-Laure

The only option for poor Parisians before the catacombs was the mass grave. Most people were not buried in coffins: they were simply buried when a space became available. When the pit was full, church officials would let the grave rest until the bodies had decomposed, before digging up and placing the bones in the large mass graves.

The quarrymen who dug the catacomb tunnels sold limestone and gypsum for use in buildings, roads, sculptures and bridges. The Romans were the first to quarry rock and stone used to build public baths and the buildings of Lutetia. Later, quarried stone was used to build the Louvre and Notre-Dame.

In 1774, a quarry tunnel collapsed, taking some buildings with it. Further collapses followed until King Louis XVI hired architect Charles Axel Guillaumot to stabilize the rest of the tunnels. While working in the quarries, the laborers dug connecting tunnels, many of which were used to house bones when the king ordered the Paris cemeteries emptied.

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

The quarrymen’s footbath refers to the small sheet of clear, transparent water uncovered by the quarrymen for their own use – Flickr – Jean-David & Anne-Laure

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

Flickr – Fraser Mummery

Visiter les catacombes de Paris, ossuaire municipal, dans le 14ème arrondissement

Fotopedia – Newbold Bohemia

The entrance to the catacombs is often crowded with tourists. You can book a ticket with a guided tour of the catacombs to avoid queuing.

And here is an 1857 map of the Paris catacomb network:

Plan des catacombes de Paris

Map of Paris catacombs – Inspection Générale des Carrières – Click on image to enlarge

Have you visited the catacombs of Paris?