Before you decide to descend below the city of lights you should know a thing or two about the catacombs. Here are 7 Paris Catacombs Facts to get you through.
France is one of the most visited regions in the world, taking on an average of 200 million tourists per year. Its capital, Paris, has seen a record number of visitors, recently surpassing 40 million visitors.
It’s not surprising that so many people want to see the “City of Lights”. Paris is chock full of history, interesting architecture, exquisite cuisine, and both high and low art.
Sights like the Notre Dame cathedral, the Palais Garnier, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre are on everybody’s travel bucket list. You’ll never run out of things to see and do when you visit this incredible destination.
Want to see something that’s a bit more unusual? Paris has something for everyone’s taste.
The Parisian catacombs are full of history – and lots and lots of bones. Here are seven Paris catacombs facts that you need to know before you go.
1. Get There Early
The first fact on our list? Get in line early. If you want to see the catacombs, this is the most important thing to remember.
The catacombs open at 10 AM but if you get there by then, there will already be a long line. Wait times for this line can be anywhere from two to four hours.
They only let a limited amount of visitors to the catacombs. Early birds get to see the bones, so get a good breakfast and queue up first thing in the morning.
2. The Catacombs Influenced Paris Itself
When you walk around Paris, you’ll start to notice that many of the buildings are the same beige and grey colors. Believe it or not, this is because of the catacombs.
Before using them to store remains, the catacombs were once limestone quarries. The limestone, in turn, was used to build the city itself.
Famous landmarks such as Notre Dame cathedral, Gare de l’Est, Pantheon, and Place de la Concorde were all built with limestone from the quarries. When you emerge from your visit to the catacombs, you’ll see these buildings in an all new light.
3. They House Millions Upon Millions Of Dead
One of the most obvious catacomb facts is that they’re very old and very crowded. But just how crowded are they?
In the late 1700s, Parisians complained that the cemeteries were too full and they could smell the scent of decomposing bodies. The decision was then made to use the former limestone quarries to store the bodies.
They took the bodies from the graveyards, mostly from Cimetiere des Innocents, and dumped them down chutes into the limestone quarries.
The many bodies went into mass graves and once sufficiently decomposed, disinterred. The bones were then packed in hallways and alcoves all around, reinforcing the walls of the catacombs.
4. Famous Names In The Catacombs
As you can imagine, many notable people have buried below Paris. For example, Charles Perrault, famous for writing Tales of Mother Goose, is one of the catacombs’ most renowned residents.
While rich and poor, the exalted and the ordinary, are buried together according to Christian tradition, there are a few residents of the catacombs who are famous for their work there.
Perhaps one of the most interesting people to rest in peace in the catacombs is Philibert Aspairt.
Aspairt was a cataphile, someone who had an interest in the catacombs. He went searching for a secret stash of liqueur and never came back.
They discovered his remains 11 years later and he was left to rest in the catacombs he loved exploring. It’s said that he is the protector of the cataphiles now and his ghost comes back each year on November 3rd.
5. It’s Illegal To Go Exploring By Yourself…But That Doesn’t Stop Everyone
While Philibert Aspairt is perhaps the most famous cataphile, there are many others that follow in his footsteps.
It’s illegal to roam around the catacombs by yourself. Obviously, it’s very dangerous, but that doesn’t stop everyone.
Cataphiles still descend into the darkness for various reasons. People discovered secret swimming holes, movie room setups, and more in various areas. A special police force known as E.R.I.C. regularly patrols the area and tries to keep cataphiles away.
While it’s truly tempting to go searching out all of the interesting facts about the catacombs in Paris, do so legally. Click this link and learn more about how you can get to the catacombs safely and legally.
6. The Catacombs Have Shaped The Parisian Skyline
This is one of the strangest catacomb facts, yet it makes sense once you think about it. The catacombs shaped the Paris skyline, giving the city more or less an even view.
The reason there aren’t any tall building to interrupt the skyline is because the catacombs make it difficult to maintain architectural foundations.
It’s kind of ironic because the bones themselves help hold up the catacombs. They’re stacked so tightly that they help shore up the walls themselves.
7. They Go On And On…and On
Tours often go through the ossuaries. These tunnels and galleries hold most of the six million remains of the Paris catacombs.
You’ll want to stick to these guided paths and never go in by yourself. It’s estimated that there are in reality about 200 miles of catacombs and tunnels.
These tunnels aren’t all mapped and it’s easy to get lost. You don’t want to end up like Philibert – stay on the path.
Paris Catacombs Facts and More
There’s a lot to learn and explore beneath the City of Lights. These creepy, interesting, and historical Paris catacombs facts no doubt has you planning your trip right now.
If the closest you’ll get to visiting the legendary city of Paris is mixing up an American in Paris cocktail, it still doesn’t hurt to dream.
Whether you’re building your bucket list or putting together your next dream vacation, we’ve got you covered. We’ll show you the best ways to visit the biggest attractions and also interesting sights off the beaten path.
Check back on our travel blog every day and design your dream vacation today!