Are you looking for an unusual experience, far from the famous and crowded touristic attractions during your stay in the French capital ? The idea of taking a walk six feet under does not scare you ? Then you will certainly enjoy a little trip in the thick of the Catacombs of Paris !
What are the Catacombs ?
The Catacoms of Paris are an underground circuit of more than 2 kilometers, situated approximately 30 meters underground (twice as deep as the metro!) in the 14th arrondissement. By entering – guided, of course – this maze of underground passages, you will discover quarries more than two centuries old. A large part of these garners the bones of more than six million Parisians. These bones have been thoughtfully arranged in a kind of theatrical decor, and provide the place with a surreal atmosphere (though 100% authentic). It is an astonishing journey that, as it takes you along in a tremendous underground Paris, will make you wonder about the frailty and the odd insignificance of the human life.
A bit of History
The History of the Catacombs of Paris began in 1785. In the XVIIth century, as a city with a large population and a long History, Paris suffered a serious sanitary crisis due to an overload of its cemetaries. Some in particular, such as the « cimetière des Innocents » in the center of the city, had garnered the corpses of dozens of generations of Parisians for almost a millenium ! On November 9th, 1785, the Council of State decided to move the remains from these crowded cemetaries to a place that is further away from the population. As it was supposed to be renovated to consolidate the mined public roads, the quarry « de la Tombe-Issoire » was picked. It underwent some adjusting works, and a well was built inside of it to dump the bones into. The place is benedicted and consacred on April 7th, 1786, and for the two years that followed, processions regularly took place at dusk – along with religious ceremonies – to transfer the bones from the cemetaries to the quarry. The Catacombs continued to host the bones from Parisian cemetaries until the middle of the XIXth century, especially during the great Haussmann roadworks in Paris.
But the ossuary that makes the Catacombs of Paris famous was not always staged as it is nowadays. At first, the bones used to simply be piled up. But pretty soon, the Catacombs aroused the curiosity of famous people (of which François the First of Austria and Napoleon the Third). Around 1810, Héricart de Thury (the then General inspector of the Quarries) had an idea to organize the ossuary as such (on the front only!), so to create a highly theatrical decor, embellished with features and inscriptions that truly stage the mere idea of death.
The entrance of the Catacombs is situated on 1, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. At the end of the route, the exit will be a few hundred meters away, on rue Rémi Dumoncel (closest metro stops : Alésia or Mouton Duvernet)
The Catacombs are open from tuesday to sunday, from 10 a.m to 8 p.m (last entry at 7 p.m).
Full rate : 10€
Reduced rate : 8€ (for youngsters under 26 and holders of the Paris Pass Famille)
Due to the unusual settings, potential visitors should take a few elements into account. Here are the conditions and accessibility information detailed on the website of the Catacombes de Paris :
Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods.
Distance covered: 2 km.
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes.
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available.
130 steps to go down and 83 steps back up to street level.
The tour is unsuitable for people with heart or respiratory problems, those of a nervous disposition and young children.
The Catacombs are not accessible for persons with reduced mobility.
Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
How to go from Hotel du Danube ?
The Catacombs are easy to get to from the hotel, you will simply have to take the metro. It is a direct and short metro ride (less than 10 mn).
Take a left (on rue Jacob) when you get out of the hotel, then second on the right (rue Bonaparte). You will get to Saint-Germain-des-Prés after only a few meters. The metro station will be right behind the church on your left. Take line 4 in the direction of Mairie de Montrouge until Denfert-Rochereau station. Get out and you are right at the entrance of the Catacombs (for guidance on the big square, follow the signs!).