Since it’s October, I’m full-speed-ahead in Halloween mode – visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies, and decorating my house with all things creepy. This past weekend I finally sat down to watch As Above, So Below after several recommendations from family and friends. Holy. Crap. This has quickly become a new horror favorite of mine. The film was both really well done and really freaking scary. Since nearly the entire movie was set in the Catacombs, it reminded me that I haven’t written about them yet! So, it’s the perfect time. Keep reading for your guide to visit the Catacombs in Paris.
The History of the Catacombs
So you’ve heard about the catacombs, but… what are they? Why are they there? And why would you want to visit them?
The catacombs of Paris are what we know as the largest ossuary in the world. What’s an ossuary? It’s a container or room that contains the bones of humans. This is different from a grave; dead bodies are buried in graves. Then, when the bodies decompose, the bones are then moved to a new location – or an ossuary. Historians believe that there are between 6 and 7 million skeletons contained in the 11,000 square meter ossuary.
Creation of the Ossuary
Centuries ago, several historical occurrences led to what we know today as the Parisian catacombs. The collapse of streets in Paris and the condemnation of church cemeteries were two of the major events. The inefficient burials of Parisian people were becoming a health problem, which caused multiple cemeteries to close.
Throughout the late 18th century and early 19th century, millions of remains from cemeteries all over Paris were moved during the night into the catacombs. Through the tunnels you’ll see signs indicating which cemeteries and church grounds the skeletons came from.
The site was dedicated in 1786 and opened to the public in 1809. Lucky for you, the entrance to the catacombs has signs with all of this information. So, make sure that you give yourself time to read about the history before venturing too far.
The Arrangement of the Bones
As you wander through the labyrinth that is the catacombs, you’ll notice the bones delicately arranged. Most commonly you’ll see walls made up of shin bones topped with human skulls. Behind these well-organized barriers, other bones are piled more chaotically.
There are some spots where the bones are arranged more aesthetically, in the shape of hearts and crosses. I was amazed at how beautiful the bones could be. Plus, my knowledge of French was helpful in translating the poems and psalms carved into the signs.
The Catacombs are open daily from 10am to 8:30pm, except for Mondays. Ticket sales end at 7:30pm. A visit through the Catacombs takes about an hour, but is self-paced, so you can choose to spend more or less time underground.
Since the Catacombs are located so far underground, the temperature remains pretty consistent year-round in the 50s (F). This means it’s a bit chilly in the summer! Be prepared.
If you are looking for a guided tour, plan to go on Thursdays at 1pm. Guided tours have an extra cost and have limited availability, so plan ahead!
Pre-purchased tickets give you guaranteed entrance with skip-the-line access and an audio guide for adults. But, the tickets are twice as expensive. You also need to have your trip well planned out, as you have to choose the date and time when you purchase. Also, you cannot return or exchange your tickets.
Children between 4 and 18 cost 5 euros (~ 5.5 dollars)
Adults over 18 cost 29 euros (~32 dollars)
The cheapest option? Purchasing tickets at the entrance. BUT, you will need to wait in a long line. At least an hour. I’ve heard that lines around Halloween can be several hours. You’ve been warned.
There are a few things you need to know if you’re planning to visit the Catacombs…
NO luggage is allowed. You can bring a small bag under 12×15 inches and you must carry it on your front or in your hands. This prevents bags from rubbing against the bones. Need to store your luggage? Sites like Luggage Hero help you find places to store your luggage while you wander around town.
Flash photographs are NOT allowed. And while we’re on the subject of photography, you should know that the catacombs can get very humid. I was constantly wiping my camera lens clean (and didn’t get the quality photos I wanted).
You’re going underground. And it’s a loooong way down. 131 steps to be exact. And they spiral… gain and again. I’ll admit that I paused for a moment so I didn’t get too dizzy. Also, it goes without saying that you’ll need to climb back up. But it’s only 112 steps this time.
There are areas that are narrow and others that have low ceilings. Please be cautious if you are tall or claustrophobic.
Unfortunately, the catacombs discourage entrance to people with limited mobility. Due to the high number of stairs and uneven ground to walk on, visitors cannot bring wheelchairs, strollers, and walkers. Also, people suffering from heart conditions are also discouraged from visiting.
Finally, and most importantly, DO NOT TOUCH the bones! They are the remains of human beings. Have respect.
Did you know?
A few hundred thousand people visit the catacombs in Paris every year. But, experts suspect that local Parisians also visit regularly through secret tunnels and passageways (as can be seen in As Above, So Below). Of course, this is highly illegal. So don’t do it!
Of the thousands of meters of tunnels in the labyrinth, visitors only get to visit a small portion; roughly 1500 meters.
Also, one of my favorite features of the catacombs in the underground street signs. Therefore, you know what streets you are standing beneath. Since you’ll be meandering the tunnels underground, don’t expect to exit where you entered! The public section of the catacombs end about a block from the beginning, and the stairs lead you into a gift shop.
Would you ever visit the catacombs in Paris or somewhere else? If you have, what did you think?