When we decided to go to Paris last summer for our honeymoon, we decided we really wanted to explore the Catacombs. My husband didn’t have time to go to the Catacombs the last time he was in Paris, as he was only there for a few days.
We researched options online, but I kept picturing myself getting lost in the Catacombs never to return to my Husky! There are a lot of stories online about people getting lost down there and I wasn’t going to be the next!! We decided that a guided tour might be our best option.
It seems silly now that we’ve been down there because the paths are clearly guided and they give you a map. I am still glad we did the guided tour though because we learned a lot about the history of the Catacombs. Probably learned way more with a guide than I would’ve had patience to read about!
Today, the Catacombs is the largest grave in the world. It contains millions of skulls and bones, and was probably honestly the most creepy thing I’ve ever done! It was so worth it though for the experience.
The first thing you do upon entering is walk down many, MANY stairs. Also, the stairs are basically a nicer, stone spiral staircase.
The History of the Catacombs
The Catacombs were established in the late 1700’s as a way to solve the problem of overflowing Paris cemeteries at that time. The previous burial grounds were filled to over 6 feet of human remains and it became highly unsanitary. They exhumed the bodies and bones after a few of the Saint Innocents’ walls had collapsed and transferred them to old mines underground. And so the Catacombs were born!
Making Disorganized Bones into Patterns
Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, the director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, is responsible for putting the skulls, femurs and other bones into the decorative patterns you see in these photos. He also added signs made of stone that were inscribed with very odd, ominous wording.
Our tour allowed us to go to a few places that normal walking tours didn’t have access to, which was pretty cool! Our guide took us to see these elaborate limestone carvings that a man named Francois Décure carved on his lunch breaks. He was a quarry worker at the time, but he sadly passed away while carving a stairway to his beautiful sculptures. Picture it though – he used very basic tools and did these carvings from memory of when he was captured by the English!
We also found he (or perhaps someone else?!) had carved the name Laura in the ceiling!! How crazy.
Fun Catacomb Facts
In 2004, police discovered a complete and working movie theatre in the Catacombs! Our guide told us how they found a bar, tables, chairs, and recent film reels there. No one knows how they managed to create such a thing or where the electricity came from. Whoever created it is still unknown! Can you imagine finding this down there?!
Our guide told us that royals in France were buried in the same burial grounds as any other person back then. He noted that Marie Antoinette’s bones very well could’ve been some of the bones we saw that day!
In 2015, Airbnb paid €350,000 as part of a publicity stunt offering customers the chance to stay overnight in the Catacombs. There is no way I would ever do that, but to each their own. I bet it was nice and quiet!
There is a well inside the Catacombs (pictured above) and there was actually water in it. Also, apparently there is a secret entrance to the Catacombs somewhere in the Paris subway system!
I can’t recommend our tour enough – our guide was from England but living in Paris now. He was great, and we ended up only having one other couple on our tour. We, of course, saw the people on the walking tour but it was cool to get a more in depth experience because this is something we definitely couldn’t do every day.