Okay friends, let’s start with not getting the Paris Catacombs (near Denfert-Rochereau) and the Paris Crypt (under the Eiffel Tower) mixed up! The Paris Catacombs are the mystical place that worries as much as it fascinates with its hundreds of skulls.
20 meters underground, quarries contain one of Paris strangest’ cemeteries. The latter, constructed in 1800 and covering 11,000 sqm, gathers all the bones coming from cemeteries closed for being a source of infection, including the Cimetière des Innocents, a graveyard located in Halles neighborhood that contaminated soils; by the order of the King, in April 1777, bodies and bones were moved to the underground quarries, the Paris Catacombs!
Instead of becoming a mass grave, this ossuary will become the Empire of the Death (or Empire de la Mort in French), through a fascinating (disturbing?) presentation designed in 1809 by Héricart de Thury, the mass ossuary is created!
You have to climb down a spiral staircase to end in his out-of-time place: luckily, we arrive in a room to get psychologically prepared, explaining us how and why these thousands of skulls have been put underground, thoroughly placed along a 2-km course.
The number of bones is impressive, and we even wonder if some hasn’t been added throughout time! Writings and quotes disturb us, and boards explain where the bones come from. We note this Lamartine’s quote: “Ainsi tout change, ainsi tout passe, ainsi nous-mêmes nous passions. Hélas ! sans laisser plus de trâce que cette barque où nous glissons sous cette mer ou tout s’efface”. [Thus, everything changes, everything passes, we ourselves pass. Alas! Without leaving a mark of this bark where we slide under this sea where everything fades away.]
If the maze is philosophical and makes us think about our place in the world, it’s important to recall this ossuary has been created in a Christian Kingdom, which is visible thanks to the many maxims that warn non-believers.
Please note that the Paris Catacombs make you live Paris History with its new store, books about the story of the place as well as literary pieces inspired by the Catacombs and many side-merchandising about skulls, from the scented candle to the designer’s jewels!
An experience we’re not likely to forget any time soon!
The Paris Catacombs
Opening hours, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., excluding Mondays and public holidays
Rates: €12, regular rate, €10, reduced rate
1, place Denfert-Rochereau
75014 Paris 14
tarif réduit: €10
tarif plein: €12
Horaires : 10h-20h sauf lundis et jours fériés