Les Catacombes de Paris



Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp in the Catacombs of Paris

Hidden under the French capital lay a prodigious network of deep, dark tunnels, chambers and rooms, an ossuary and a maze of gigantic proportions called Les Catacombes de Paris (Catacombs of Paris). One can visit only an infinitesimal section of this underground curiosity with Les Catacombes de Paris, a museum of the city of Paris.

Alexandrin of the poet Delille near the entrance

The origins of Paris catacombs date from Antiquity and the Middle-Ages when quarries where dug and use the stones for building. Later, in the late 18th century, when cemeteries of Paris threatened to pose health issues, the vacuum created by the ancient stone mines was chosen as a public ossuary to transfer the remains of six millions of Parisians.

 

Sev, in the Catacombes de Paris

 

Just a few years later, the 200 miles of tunnels of the catacombs, sometimes in three levels, became an unusual attraction for a privileged few, and the visits were all organized under the light of candles, until only 1983. Now, about 300,000 people visit the catacombs each year near the place Denfert-Rochereau. A mile-long tour takes the visitor down passages, through remnants of the quarries and preserved sections of the ossuary.

But besides the guided tours which show only a tiny fraction of the catacombs, a fascination for the place still draws a diverse ‘fauna’ that risk visits down to the other forbidden, netherworldy regions of this unique place.

Bone pile