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Paris Underground: A once in a lifetime experience in the Catacombs

A vast, 280km network of tunnels beneath the city, the Catacombs of Paris hold the remains of over 6 million people. This ossuary was created in order to tackle the crisis of overflowing cemeteries in the late 18th Century.

The situation had become so dire that the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery next to Les Halles was piled high with the bodies of those who had died from disease, famine and war and the remains from the local hospital’s morgue. So in 1776, under the direction of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, they began transferring the bones of the diseased into a series of reinforced tunnels.

Among the famous thought to be buried here are Paul Marat, the fiercely radical journalist and politician who was assassinated during the French Revolution, and Maximilien de Robespierre, the revolutionary Jacobin leader who led the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror.

Whilst the Catacombs comprise some 280km of underground tunnels, just 2km of this is open to the public. Despite close surveillance against unauthorized entry, scores of self-proclaimed «cataphiles» have discovered secret entrances throughout the city (often via the sewers, the metro or manholes).

Unofficial visitors tell stories of secret concerts and parties held down in the dark. In 2004 the French police even came across a clandestine underground movie theater headed by les UX, a secret organization that aims to improve hidden corners of Paris.

However, we’d recommend you don’t go too far off the beaten track, so to speak, and make your way to the Place Denfert-Rochereau to arrive via the official tourist entrance. A word of warning: the removal of skulls and bones from the Catacombs is strictly forbidden… try to resist the urge!

Address: 1, avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (place Denfert-Rochereau), 75014, Paris
Metro: Denfert-Rochereau (Line 2)
Bus: 38, 68
Opening times: Tuesday-Sunday, 10.00-20.30,
Closed Mondays and certain Bank Holidays,
Entry: €12, Concessions: €10, Free for under-18s


For more information, visit the official Catacombs Museum Website


Continue to discover the hidden Paris by reading our next post:
Following the footsteps of Édith Piaf