When In Paris...

For anyone with an underground bent "The Catacombs" of Paris must be on the list of sights whilst sampling the delights of this city. Hopefully these notes will be of interest for anyone visiting.


Most easily reached by metro 6 or 4 which intersect at "Dcnfert Rocherau". This station is also on RER line B. Leaving Denfert Rocherau you will find yourself at "Place Dcnfert-Rocherau". This square was, incidentally, once named "Place D'Enfer" - Hell Square! The entrance to the catacombs is located just South-East of the station on a road island, and is well sign-posted.


Open Tuesday-Friday 2pm-4pm, Saturday-Sunday, 9am-llam, 2pm-4pm. Cost approx 20F but free if you have already purchased a tourist pass -available at most metro stations. Allow at least an hour for the self-guided tour so aim to be at the entrance fairly early. I understand that a "sweeper" attendant will hurry you along if you dawdle!

Brief History

The Catacombs are actually old-abandoned stone quarries many of which exist beneath the Paris streets. In fact as so much of the city is undermined these have regularly to be inspected and this would appear to be a full time occupation. In 1785 many of the Parisian charnel houses were ordered to be cleared. The quarries became a convenient storage space for the skeletal remains of some 6,000,000 Parisians!

Towards the end of the late 19th century some enterprising types arranged to have the bones properly stacked and "artistically" arranged on each side of the passage - literal "deads"! A rather macabre and bizarre Victorian spiritual experience was the result. Until fairly recently the site was used by students, artists and punks made use of the site for parties and the like. The authorities put an end to this though. The site is now exclusively run as a tourist attraction - though not as popular, or well advertised, as many other Parisian attractions!


A spiral stairway leads down from the entrance turnstile to a level some 60-70ft below the streets - below the levels of the metro and the sewers. A few pictures decorate the walls of the first few galleries giving historical information regarding the charnel houses. To the mine/quarry enthusiast the first couple of hundred yards of meandering tunnel will be of interest as unobstructed faces and very carefully stacked deads may be observed. A pocket torch will be useful for examining the various side passages through barriers.

Eventually you will alight in a chamber with two carved pillars forming the entrance to the bone displays. A sign here declares "abandon all hope for you are entering the kingdom of the dead". Stepping through you are immediately confronted by stacked bones and skulls. Their browned and decayed appearance hints at their age. This is a good spot to stop and observe other visitors reactions. Some seem to be quite unprepared for the experience.

As you progress through the winding tunnels various arrangements are presented such as skulls tastefully arranged in a heart shape, and other such emblems. Punctuating the route are an extensive set of plaques - in french - offering further soulful messages. Sadly I have no translations for these as they were really very funny.

I was surprised how long it takes to wander through the public passages which are cunningly arranged to switch back and forth through the pillars and stalls. The overall impression is one of vast numbers of bones stretching into the distance for seemingly eternity! Well I guess 6 million is a large number.

Towards the end of your visit you will pass through an area of previous instability. The roofall has been cleared and a grand aven has been left now supported by a large stone and bnek arch. Nearby diagrams illustrate how these roofalls occur and can migrate upward to the surface.

On leaving via a second stairway you will find yourself on the pavement on Rue Remy-Dumoncel. Follow the direction of this one-way street to Rue General Leclerc and follow this back to Metro Denfert Rocherau or left to the nearer Alesia M4.

All in all a bizarre an unforgettable experience!

Chris Fry