I have a small fascination with old and interesting cemeteries. These places are the final resting place for lives lived and loved. Death is also the great equalizer – the wealthy and affluent can spend their eternity as neighbours to others less influential.
One unique final resting place where all men (and women) are equal are the Catacombs in Paris.
Located in old quarries under Paris, the Catacombs house the remains of thousands upon thousands who died before 1814.
In the 1700’s, Paris buried its dead in The Cemetery of the Innocents as they had done for centuries. Unfortunately, with a growing city the cemetery had become a source of infection for those living in the area. In 1785, the Council of State closed the Cemetery of The Innocents and began to remove its contents.
The quarries under Paris had recently been inspected and fortified and they proved to be the perfect location for the new final resting place for the residents of Cemetery of The Innocents. Once the Catacombs were blessed and consecrated the transfer could begin.
Not everything was easy, as the idea of and moving the dead through the streets of Paris caused some concern among Parisians. There was also no distinction between individuals, the bones were simply gathered together regardless of who it was or how influential they had been.
Beginning on April 7th, 1786 and continuing until 1788, at nightfall, carts containing the now clean bones of the dead were draped in black cloth and moved to their new location. A procession of priests singing the service for the dead accompanied the carts.
Bones from other Paris cemeteries continued to be moved to the catacombs up until 1814.
This is a different side of Paris and not one to visit if you are faint of heart, nervous or claustrophobic.
Also, please don’t be tempted to take a souvenir home with you – some people do – bags are searched on your way out and bones are retrieved. As surprising as it seems, some people don’t seem to understand that this is a cemetery and a final resting place for the dead.
- The Catacombs are open daily (except for Mondays and public holidays) from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Last admission is 4 p.m.
- 130 steps down to the catacombs and 83 steps back up to street level. There are no elevators. Dress warmly as it is cool underground, approximately 14C.
- The Catacombs cover over 2 k.m. and it take about 45 minutes to complete.
- Admission is also monitored with no more than 200 allowed down at any time. Tickets can be purchased on site only.
1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy – 75014 Paris