Paris is clearly the city of lovers and the city, where you spend more than in Dubai or New York city. It is the travel dream of millions of people all over the world and has one of the busiest airports – Charles De Gaulle CDG with connections almost everywhere. But what we find when we look closer, under this metropolis to the basement of Eiffel tower? To the place where Shakespeare’s play „Les Miserables“ takes place? What about worlds biggest mass grave?
Some come to Paris to see newest collections, another for culture or architecture. But there are also those, who want even more and they can’t miss the visit of Paris Catacombs – the mysterious place full of human’s bones hidden for centuries under this city, under feet of lovers and american celebrities. Paris Catacombs take often place in many world’s charts and are marked as world’s scariest place. I have learned about catacombs from american horror movie from 2007 year, where was singer Pink playing. That time I knew, I will definitely have to get here once, and I made it already.
20 meters under the Paris is unbelievably 350 of kilometers of tunnels full of human’s bones from middle ages. There tunnels are old Roman quarries under the city from where Romans took stone to build the city, called Lutetia back then. The work in quarries was physically very hard, but even simple than import building material. During the ages, Paris started growing faster and faster and thanks to this, the demand for stone was even higher. This time started uncontrolled undermining of city. This mining delirium had to be stopped in 15th century, when streets began to falling to the ground. Nobody knew how many tunnels are currently under the city, where to they lead and what is at the end. To avoid of disappearing of Paris, these underground tunnels had to be reinforced with walls and columns and thanks to this, now they look identically and it is pretty easy to get lost here. As the city was growing, there were also growing the amount of dead people and the cemeteries were almost full. When plague epidemic came, the situation came even worse. Dead rotting bodies all over the streets were extremely dangerous for the others because of diseases from rotting human flesh. The bodies were stored to the catacombs and bones were used as a building material of walls to avoid crumbling. By the year 1814 there were stored almost 7 million bodies and as now, even in the middle ages visiting these tunnels was a favorite activity for aristocrats of medieval Paris. According to chronicles even Napoleon III, Swedish king Oscar or emperor Bicmarck came down here.
Nowadays, there are 2 kilometers long way opened for visitors through official entrance. It is green small house with sign „Entree des Catacombes“. According to many articles on web, these catacombs have plenty of unofficial entrances, what is pretty easy to believe since by now, there are still many tunnels that have not been discovered. I even found a map of these unofficial tunnels ion web, where are marked unofficial entrances. Mainly it holes in metro tunnels or through canalization. One of these entrances is in the basement of skyscraper on Montparnasse. There are plenty of videos on YouTube, by people, who have tried to enter catacombs through these tunnels and filming as they were walking in tunnels that no one have visited for centuries. There are many tunnels that have been closed during reinforcing and are full of water. Hundred of tourists lost here yearly, what was the main idea for that american horror. There are a group of people who call themselves Cataphiles, these guys come to the underground and wandering in these medieval tunnels fiddled with bones, making maps and organize meetings here and parties as well, since the sound is spreading over catacombs very hard and you do not hear what is happening behind corner. Based on my own experience, this is true. This place is so scary quiet that only thing that you can hear is your own steps. The entrance to the unofficial parts of catacombs is strictly forbidden and you may get fined with 60 EUR if you get caught. I would not risk it, you never know who you meet down there. There may be people hiding before police etc.
Me and my family (yes, they had to) we used official entrance to catacombs on the Place Denfert-Rochereau square. As everywhere in Paris, here you will wait 2 hours in queue as well. There are smaller groups of 20 people left to go there and the maximum of people at once is 200. People with some disease or weak people should not enter catacombs. After paying the entrance fee which is 8 EUR for adults and 4 EUR for people under 26 years and free for younger than 13 you will step down the circle stairs and enter catacombs. With every step you feel how the temperature is descending. There is even the table informing you the amount of people that are in catacombs now. Those live ones. The temperature is 14 degrees Celsius so wear something warm. Wear appropriate shoes, since there may be water on some places and mud. We missed a table showing the current known tunnels under the city and as was time passing by, we got deeper and deeper. Not all tunnels are covered with bones, but as you are passing by, there are more and more bones. It is forbidden to take pictures with flash and touching bones. Sometimes it is not that easy as it sounds. Not all of visitors respect rules and also people who should not visit this place as well. I was eye witness of a lady who fell on the floor and could not breathe, she entered this place because she was curious but she did not make it. Staff is well prepared for situations like this and in the second, there was a rescue guy who led her out. I had no problems looking at so many bones, they’re dead ;). I have no clue how is it with diseases down there, since many of people have died because of plague epidemic. But I guess it safe, since thousands of people enter catacombs daily. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be allowed to enter. You’re not along in catacombs, there are many employees watching the situation, they have chair each 150 meters where sit all day and watch visitors. It has to be very interesting job to sit all day long in grave in the light of small lamp, shaking in 14 degrees. As you are passing tunnels, you will definitely see another tunnels that are closed, many holes in walls and this is the evidence that this underground system of tunnels is really spread under whole Paris. The tour takes 45 minutes. Depends on you. There is many tables hanging on walls with a lot of texts to read. You would be surprised, how happy you will be when you get out of here and see daylight. In souvenir shop you can buy many skeletons and hanging bones, mugs in shape of bones and many useless stuff.
Visiting the catacombs in Paris is for advanced travelers. If you are enough adventurous, you can avoid the entrance fee 8 EUR and find your own entrance, but count with that if you get lost, no one will find you. I strongly DO NOT RECOMMEND entering catacombs unofficial way. If is Eiffel tower to boring for you, do not make a picture with it. Make a picture with skeleton under the Paris. Original, isn’t it?
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. The last entrance at 4 pm. Closed during holidays. For most actual information check official page of catacombs and mind that queues may occur and you may wait up to two hours to enter. You are in Paris.
Milan Bardún 2014