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Paris Catacombs

Twisting 18 metres beneath Paris' avenues and streets are miles of tunnels piled high with the bones and skulls of millions of the inhabitants of this ancient city.

One the one hand Paris is the City of Light – high culture, fine art and finer cuisine – but on the other it is the City of Night – an ancient town of hidden alleys, forgotten crypts and the meandering tunnels of the 'catacombs'. It is reckoned that Parisians have dug over 241 kilometres of subterranean passageways under their city, many dating back to medieval times. None is more infamous than the Municipal Ossuary – now called the Paris Catacombs – the City's very own 'Empire of Death.'

A final resting place for six million Parisians, from a millennium of burials, the Paris Catacombs only started to be filled with the bones of the dead 200 years ago. But the chillingly creative ways in which bones and skulls have been placed and stacked, in giant sculptural mounds, suggests something more ancient and primal. Descend into the Paris Catacombs and you descend into a rather intimate encounter with mortality and death.

It's a trip that millions of visitors have taken, since the Catacombs opened to visitors in the 19th century. The entrance is located in the Place Denfert-Rochereau, in the Montparnasse district. Once inside, you spiral down to some eighteen metres beneath the streets, and are guided to the entrance to 'l'empire de la Mort'. Inside, the endless walls of yellowed bones, inter-layered with skulls, are an arresting and astonishing sight.

The reason for this macabre display dates back to the earlier Parisian custom of burying their dead within the city's walls. The churchyards in this crowded city filled up rapidly, and many churches had to pile burials one atop the other. Health worries led to the removal, in 1786, of bones from all of Paris' churches, and across hundreds centuries of burials. They were re-interred in the tunnels of the catacombs. But it was the dark imaginative genius of Héricart de Thury, Inspector General of Quarries, who turned the Municipal Ossuary into the 'Empire of Death' in 1810.

He directed the artistic arrangement of bones, interleaving them with tombstones and cemetery decorations. Since then visitors including the Emperor of Austria and Napoleon III have descended its stairs to explore its morbid magnificence. And you can too.

It's not hard to spend a whole afternoon at Paris Catacombs. Here are a selection of the things you can enjoy here:

If you're seeking more activities, peruse our Paris things to do page.


Guide to Exploring Paris Catacombs


Map

Top Paris Catacombs Hotel & Accommodation Deals

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Hôtel Excelsior Latin NZ$198
Hôtel Excelsior Latin

Hôtel Excelsior Latin

20 rue Cujas, Paris, Ile de France
     
    3.0 out of 5.0 Stars

    Located in Paris City Centre, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Sorbonne University and Pantheon. Luxembourg Palace and Luxembourg Gardens are also within 10 minutes. Paris Luxembourg Station and Cluny - La Sorbonne Station are within a 5-minute walk.

    Hôtel Vacances Bleues Villa Modigliani NZ$125
    Hôtel Vacances Bleues Villa Modigliani

    Hôtel Vacances Bleues Villa Modigliani

    13 rue Delambre, Paris, Paris
       
      3.0 out of 5.0 Stars

      Located in Paris City Centre, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art and Tour Montparnasse. Paris Catacombs and Luxembourg Palace are also within 15 minutes. Vavin Metro Station is only a 2-minute walk and Edgar Quinet Metro Station is 3 minutes.

      Hôtel du Midi Paris Montparnasse NZ$155
      Hôtel du Midi Paris Montparnasse

      Hôtel du Midi Paris Montparnasse

      4 Avenue René Coty, Paris, Paris
         
        3.0 out of 5.0 Stars

        Located in 14th Arrondissement, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Paris Catacombs and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Luxembourg Gardens and Tour Montparnasse are also within 1 mile (2 km). Denfert-Rochereau Station and Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station are within a 2-minute walk.

        K+K Hotel Cayre Paris NZ$249
        K+K Hotel Cayre Paris

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        4 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, Paris
           
          4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

          Located in Paris City Centre, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Orsay Museum and Le Bon Marche. Rodin Museum and Tuileries Garden are also within 15 minutes. Rue du Bac Station is only a 2-minute walk and Solferino Station is 4 minutes.

          Hôtel du Lion NZ$165
          Hôtel du Lion

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          1 Avenue du General Leclerc, Paris, Paris
             
            2.0 out of 5.0 Stars

            Located in 14th Arrondissement, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Paris Catacombs and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Luxembourg Gardens and Tour Montparnasse are also within 1 mile (2 km). Denfert-Rochereau Station and Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station are within a 2-minute walk.

            Enjoy Hostel NZ$145
            Enjoy Hostel

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            5 Rue Des Plantes, Paris, Paris
               
              0.0 out of 5.0 Stars

              Located in 14th Arrondissement, this hotel is within a 15-minute walk of Paris Catacombs and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Tour Montparnasse and Parc Montsouris are also within 1 mile (2 km). Mouton-Duvernet Station is 6 minutes by foot and Alésia Metro Station is 6 minutes.

              Best Western Nouvel Orléans Montparnasse NZ$146
              Best Western Nouvel Orléans Montparnasse

              Best Western Nouvel Orléans Montparnasse

              25 Avenue Du General Leclerc, Paris, Paris
                 
                4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                Located in 14th Arrondissement, this hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Paris Catacombs and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Luxembourg Gardens and Tour Montparnasse are also within 1 mile (2 km). Mouton-Duvernet Station is only a 2-minute walk and Denfert-Rochereau Station is 4 minutes.

                Villa Montparnasse NZ$186
                Villa Montparnasse

                Villa Montparnasse

                2 Rue Boulard, Paris, Paris
                   
                  4.0 out of 5.0 Stars

                  Located in Montparnasse, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Paris Catacombs and Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Tour Montparnasse and Luxembourg Gardens are also within 1 mile (2 km). Denfert-Rochereau Station and Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station are within a 5-minute walk.