Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Obsession With Haunted Places: Paris Catacombs


Les Catacombes de Paris (L'Ossuaire Municipal)

The Catacombs of Paris hold the remains of approximately 6 million people and is an underground cemetery used to accommodate the overflow of bodies in the cemeteries in Paris.  As the conditions in most of the cemeteries in Paris were overflowing, the big concern was Les Innocents as the big central mound was growing daily and bodies were known to appear out of nowhere; the fear of disease was rampant, and the weight of the bodies in the cemetery caused a wall to collapse into a nearby basement.  Cemeteries were closed until a decision was made regarding the problem. 
By the 18th century, due to the growth of the city, much of the suburban sprawl had spread over what used to be old mined territories (limestone used for building the city); mining wasn't regulated like it was today, and many of the shafts were dug haphazardly and mined in random directions until the veins were depleted, then simply abandoned.  In 1785, it became law for bodies to be removed from all cemeteries and moved to the underground mines that were being repurposed for such an idea. It took two years to empty Les Innocents and move all of the bodies to the catacombs. On April 7, 1786 the Blessing and consecration of the former Tombe-Issoire quarries, took place. Renovations by various people and groups would transform the mines into a proper ossuary / mausoleum with archways, pathways, artwork using the various bones, cemetery decorations, monumental tablets, and minerals.  This would take years to accomplish.  Since January 2013, the Catacombs have been incorporated in the public institution Paris Musees.

At first, visitation to the catacombs was very sketchy, partly due to the vandalism of the sites, partly due to the opposition of the Catholic Church and the sanctity of the grounds, and partly due to the construction that was occurring inside the site. One of the first known visitors of note was the Count of Artois; Napoleon himself has also visited the site.

Today, the tour lasts approximately 45 minutes, but I would recommend a jacket and a pair of running shoes as it can get mucky down there, and it is cold and damp.  Also, you will have to climb up and down a number of steps, I believe over one hundred to go down, and about 80 to go back up.

Interesting Facts
* The Catacombs are approximately 20 metres deep.
* The Catacombs are approximately 200 miles long, 11 000 square metres (in addition to the 2100 km of sewer tunnels and the 199 km of subway tracks)
* There are dozens of entrances to the Catacombs, but most of them have been bricked up.
* During WWII, German soldiers used the tunnels to establish an underground bunker.
* The temperature averages about 14 degrees Celsius.
* Many of the areas are still not open to the public.
* Tomb dedicated to a man who was lost in the Catacombs and his body was recovered 11 years later.
* Cataphiles - People who break the law and dare the hefty fines to explore the restricted areas of the Catacombs.

Haunted Catacombs
I have actually visited the Catacombs on two occasions and to say they are creepy is an
understatement.  However, I love creepy and I found them to be absolutely fascinating, to the point where I longed to dig and clamber in the parts where I wasn't allowed to go.  One of the things I did do naturally, was take a haunted tour of the area as I was curious.  And the Paris Catacombs are no stranger to eerie happenings: both tourists and workers have claimed to have been grabbed or to have felt ghostly hands touching them as they walk through the corridors.  Some have even reported being grabbed and pulled.  There are reports of ghostly hands grabbing their hands as they are walking or touching their backs.  There have been reports of tourists dissolving into tears as the sight and feelings are too overwhelming and have to be escorted out of the Catacombs.  People have even been known to faint or pass out.  

While extremely intriguing, the Catacombs are quite eerie, and to be honest, quite depressing.  With all the bones lying on top of each other, it really makes you think about your own life and death.  No wonder people almost explode out of the exit, into the sunshine, when they come out of the Catacombs, looking for that breath of fresh air that reminds them to be thankful for it.  That being said, if you like this kind of thing, the Catacombs are a must visit in Paris.





  1. So that's the origins of the Catacombs!

  2. I haven't been to Paris since 1998, and I've never taken a tour of the catacombs, although I did tour a very small bone repository in Mexico once.
    Thanks for this excellent and interesting post. I really enjoyed it.

    1. You're welcome. I loved visiting the Catacombs and would definitely go again. What I would love to do is sneak into the restricted sections though and see what else is down there.