Do you want to see Paris under a different light? Are you in search of a chilling adventure? Well then, you might want to discover the mysterious catacombs of Paris! How to do so, you say? Stay with us, and we’ll tell you!.
- The unusual experience
- Learning about the history of the catacombs
- The somewhat mystical atmosphere of the catacombs
We Don’t Like as Much
- Queuing up to get inside
From our point of view, the Catacombs are worth the trip.
Through the centuries, these catacombs have intrigued and fascinated many generations. Today, they are a testimony of Paris’s past and History.
The quotes engraved in numerous areas in the tunnels help us feel the atmosphere of the catacombs and sound like a message left for us by previous visitors from a long time ago.
What Are the Catacombs of Paris?
Before the Catacombs
Before becoming what they are now, the tunnels actually had a much less sinister purpose. Indeed, the tunnels were originally the result of quarrying. Theses were carved out from the 14th century onwards until the quarrying activity ceased around the beginning of the 19th century. The cut stones extracted from those quarries were used to build most of Paris’s older buildings, which are still here today.
The idea of using the tunnels as a “bone-disposal space” was first suggested around the 18th century. At that time, the cemeteries of Paris were severely overcrowded, and causing many issues around them: neighboring caves collapsed, the areas around cemeteries became unsanitary, the water in wells got contaminated… French authorities decided to resolve the overcrowding issue by dumping all “dry remains” (bones) into the unused quarries’ tunnels, under the neighborhood of “La Tombe Issoire” (14th district of Paris).
These bone transfers kept happening until the beginning of the 19th century. In total, there would be an estimated 6 million individuals whose remains have been placed in the catacombs.
The Catacombs’s Makeover
In 1809, Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, an architect designated as the quarries’ head inspector, decided to renovate the catacombs into a gallery that would be accessible to visitors. One of the most tedious part must have been to sort and arrange all the dumped bones against the walls.
We also owe to Hericart de Thury most of the engraved quotes in the gallery, the most famous one being “Arrête ! C’est ici l’Empire de la mort” (“Stop ! Here is the Empire of Death”), from the Aeneid, Book 6. This one is written at the entrance of the Catacombs.
After the first rearrangements, the visits still remained rare and reserved to curious privileged nobles or intellectuals. Among the most noteworthy visitors, let us mention the French Emperor François the First, Napoléon the Third, or even the King Oscar II of Sweden.
Though the access to the gallery was closed, then re-opened various times through the following decades, little by little, visits of the ossuary became more accessible. Nowadays, the catacombs are accessible to everyone, with all the necessary equipment to ensure the safety of visitors.
How to Visit the Catacombs?
Who Can Visit the Catacombs?
While the ossuary complies with the safety norms and does not require any special authorization, they are subject to some restrictions.
These restrictions only exist to ensure visitors’ protection, in regards to the environmental conditions of the Catacombs (243 steps, dark, hard to ventilate).
Visiting the catacombs might not be recommended if you have one or more of the following criteria :
- You are physically impaired
- You suffer from cardiac or respiratory insufficiency
- You are claustrophobic (fear of closed spaces)
- You are emotionally or psychologically fragile
Lastly, children below the age of 10 are not allowed within the catacombs. Teens below the age of 14 can visit the catacombs, but only if accompanied by an adult. Minors over the of 14, however, can visit the catacombs freely.
How to Dress to Go Explore the Catacombs?
First and foremost, let us reassure you: no need to bring out whole caving equipment!
However, try to wear outfits that will comply with the weather inside and outside the catacombs. Whether it’s winter or summer, the ossuary remains at ground temperature, which is to say about 57°F (14°C).
Nonetheless, you might also have to queue up at the entrance of the catacombs, and therefore have to face the ‘outdoors’ weather too.
We also recommend, of course, that you pick a somewhat “athletic” outfit. Don’t worry, visiting the catacombs is no physical challenge, but comfy shoes might help when comes the time to go down 131 steps and climb back 112 more at the end !
Moreover, please note that big bags and/or luggage are forbidden inside the catacombs for safety reasons. You can always leave your luggage in luggage lockers at the Montparnasse train station, only three stops away with the subway, via line 6.
Another option would be to reserve a luggage locker online. There is one in a nearby street called “rue la Tombe Issoire”, approximately 980 ft from the Denfert-Rochereau station. For that second option, see the following websites: holibag and nannybag.
Getting to the Catacombs
Address : 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris
The entrance to the catacombs is located in the 14th district of Paris, right next to the Denfert-Rochereau square.
It’s very easy to get there: You can either take the metro, lines 4 or 6, or the RER B and get down at the Denfert-Rochereau station; or you could get there by bus, with lines 59 or 88, at the Denfert-Rochereau stop.
Opening hours : Open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 8:30pm (closed on Mondays).
How Is a Visit of the Catacombs Organized?
Despite their not-so-charming contents, the Catacombs of Paris are a very popular tourist attraction.
Consequently, you might have to queue up before you can buy tickets at the booth, and before entering the gallery.
Recommended hours for a visit:
- Wednesday to Friday, from 3pm to 5pm
- Saturday and Sunday, from 5pm to 8:30pm
Side note, the waiting time can increase pretty quickly : in order to not alter the conservation of the ossuary and the bones, there cannot be more than 200 visitors at once inside the catacombs.
Therefore, you will have to wait for other visitors before you to exit the tunnel so you can get inside yourself.
Then, visiting the whole half-mile long gallery takes about an hour. The ossuary is a one-way path, which means you’ll get out at the other end of the tunnel, on the avenue René Coty.
Once you get there, make sure to check out the library and souvenir boutique at the exit!
Don’t Miss out on These During Your Visit !
Bones aren’t the only thing to look at in the catacombs. We recommend you to pay particular attention to these key elements of the visit, especially if you didn’t book a guided tour.
The Sepulchral Lamp
This lamp was the idea of the quarry workers : the warmth of the burning flame would create a variation in temperature and therefore create a wind in the tunnel, and improve its ventilation. To add an esthetic value to this system, they built a pedestal and decorated it.
Thankfully, since then, air shafts have been dug up to the surface, which are safer and much more efficient.
On the other hand, you won’t be able to see the sepulchral lamp turned on, as now it only has a purely decorative purpose.
The Lachrymatory of the Sarcophage
Also called Gilbert’s tomb, as a tribute to a French poet named Nicolas Gilbert, this creation is actually a consolidation pilar.
On the bottom part of this creation, one can read the last verses written by the poet, an extract of his poem “Jugement Dernier” (Last Judgement).
The poet’s remains are likely to be part of the ossuary.
The Samaritan’s Fountain
This water source flows naturally in the quarries but was rearranged by the workers to facilitate the access. The fountain was then decorated, to enliven the visits.
Its name, the Samaritan’s Fountain, comes from a biblical quote engraved on the structure, echoing to the encounter between the Christ and a Samaritan woman.
This gorgeous and detailed sculpture was carved out of a whole stone by a veteran soldier retrained as a quarry worker, going by the name Decuré.
This artistic creation depicts Mahon’s Citadel, in Minorca, where the man had been kept as a prisoner by the British Army, before the Battle of Minorca.
The rest of this area of the catacombs is decorated by more carving work inspired by the city of Mahon.
These works of art are the only traces we have left from Decuré’s existence, before his accidental death in the catacombs.
Is a Guided Tour Recommended?
A guided tour will not only help you know more about the bones in the ossuary, but you will also learn more about the galleries themselves!
Various guided tour offers exist, among which a visit organized with ComeToParis, which offers audio guided tours. The Catacombs of Paris, too, offers themed guided tours, such as tours centered around the geology of the quarries.
Those themed visits are to be booked ahead of time, sometimes very early on: if you’re visiting as a group (7 to 20 persons) the Catacombs of Paris ask you to make a reservation at least 8 weeks prior to your visit. This is only the consequence of the Catacombs popularity!
Buying your tickets
- Free for minors under 18.
- Young adults between age 18 to 26 (reduced price) : 12€
- Adults over the age of 26 (full price) : 14€
You can also rent an audio guide at the entrance for an additional 5€. For further information and to book your ticket online, click here.
Audio guided tours with skip-the-line tickets:
29€ (audio guide included)
Book your ticket now with ComeToParis!
We now leave you with these few shots from inside the Catacombs, collected by Paris City Vision.
Mona knows Paris like the back of her hand. Its bars, its restaurants and above all, its hotels, whether you want to sleep, eat, party or just take a walk in Paris, Mona knows them (nearly) all. Follow her lead, she will gladly give you all her good tips!