The catacombs of Paris, which contain the remains of more than six million people, are one of the great attractions to visit in the French capital. So, because we know you would like to see them, we bring you a guide for your visit to the catacombs of Paris.
We tell you everything you must see inside, how much it costs to get in, and the best tips to prepare your visit.
Why Were the Catacombs Built?
In the 18th century, life in Paris was not exactly synonymous with the elegance with which we identify the city today. The catacombs were created at the end of that century to solve the growing public health problem facing the city.
Before their construction, urban cemeteries were overcrowded and the lack of burial space led to the spread of deadly diseases.
The authorities of the time decided to move the human remains to the ancient limestone quarries beneath the city that had been exploited during Roman times, creating a large subway labyrinth of tunnels and passageways.
What to See in the Paris Catacombs
Now we tell you what the most interesting points to see inside the catacombs of Paris are.
The Sign Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort
“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort” is an inscription in French meaning “Stop, here begins the empire of death”.
It might be a warning seen in a horror movie, but it is one of the most famous and chilling phrases found in the catacombs of Paris and is the entry point to the labyrinth of bones.
The phrase is a symbolic warning of the power of death and the inevitability of our own mortality.
Viewing this inscription is an unsettling but fascinating experience and is a unique opportunity to reflect on life and death in a place full of history and meaning.
I bought a souvenir magnet with this phrase.
The Port of Mahón
Inside the catacombs some works of art surprise you, this is an example. It is a very detailed sculpture that is a replica of the port of Mahon which is located on the island of Menorca.
The sculpture was made in the 18th century by a stonemason named Décure, who was inspired by the fortification of the city of Mahón to create this impressive piece of art.
The sculpture is located at the entrance to the catacombs and is an example of the ingenuity and creativity of the artists of the time.
La Senda del Cantero
The Senda del Cantero is a must-see for those interested in history and architecture.
Located in the catacombs of Paris, this route takes you through a labyrinth of subway tunnels and ancient quarries that were used to build some of the city’s most emblematic buildings.
Along the route, you can see the marks and tools used by stonemasons centuries ago to shape the stone, as well as some fascinating archaeological remains. In addition, the Path of the Stonemason allows you to explore a different side of Paris, beyond the typical tourist attractions.
The Spiral Staircase to the Well
Entering the catacombs already makes you feel that you are in a place where you should not enter.
To get to see the millions of bones that live underneath the city, you have to descend a narrow spiral staircase, which with its 131 steps can make you a little dizzy, and when you look at it from the top it seems endless.
This stone staircase was built in 1785 to allow visitors access to the catacombs, and today is a symbol of that construction.
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The Barrel of Passion
It is also known as the Barrel of Bones and is inside the Crypt of the Passion. And thanks to its enormous size, with more than 2 meters high, it became one of the main attractions inside the catacombs of Paris.
It consists entirely of skulls and bones and has a symmetrical shape reminiscent of a barrel, hence its name. In spite of being gloomy, it has a decorative purpose since it covers one of the pillars on which the catacombs are built.
The Same Subway Paris Street Signs
Inside the catacombs of Paris, you will find signs indicating the names of the streets directly above you.
These signs are a fascinating example of how the catacombs can be used as a tool to understand the geography of the city of Paris. Some of the streets you will find on the signs include Rue de la Tombe-Issoire, Rue Saint-Jacques and Rue de la Glacière.
Some of the signs were installed by Guillaumot, who was an architect appointed by King Louis XVI in 1777 as the first Inspector General of Quarries in Paris, and who was in charge of exploring, mapping and, above all, stabilizing them.
His work in the subway world of the city was so good, that he became known as the Savior of Paris.
Famous People Buried in the Catacombs of Paris
As we already told you, in the catacombs of Paris are the remains of more than six million people, and as the French Revolution was a rather violent time, many of the men and women who stood out at that time are buried in the catacombs.
Some notable French history characters are Nicolas Flamel and his wife Pernelle, Blaise Pascal, Montesquieu, Colbert, Marat, Charlotte Corday, Robespierre and Danton, and many more.
As the bones were deposited in a disorderly manner and as a skull can be quite far from the body that held it in life, it is impossible to identify each person, but thanks to different records, it is known that these characters are there.
What to Expect When Visiting the Catacombs
If you are visiting Paris for the first time, one of the most interesting and mysterious attractions are the catacombs.
You will descend a spiral staircase into the city’s depths, where you will encounter galleries of dark tunnels filled with human bones and skulls.
It is an unsettling and awe-inspiring experience, but also fascinating and unique in its kind, as it is not possible to do this type of tourism in many places in the world.
The walls of the tunnels are covered with inscriptions and artwork dating back centuries, giving you an insight into the history and culture of the city.
If you dare to explore this mysterious underworld, we assure you that you will not be disappointed.
And if you like this kind of attraction, you will surely enjoy the free walking tour of the mysteries and legends of Paris.
Ticket Prices for the Paris Catacombs
But there is a cheaper way to enter the catacombs. Do you want to know what it is? So, read on.
Tips for Planning a Visit to the Catacombs of Paris
The Cheapest Way to Visit the Catacombs of Paris
The cheapest way to visit the catacombs is to buy last-minute tickets. How? The company that operates the catacombs offers tickets at 18€.
You have to check on their website and be on the lookout for a time slot that has places available.
How to Dress for the Catacombs
You have to consider that it is a subway place, where the average temperature is 14° and it is quite humid, so you have to be warm. And if you go in winter, keep warm so as not to suffer while waiting outside.
It Can Be a Bit Tiring
You don’t need to be very fit; it is a quiet walk, a total of 1.5 kilometers and the tour lasts 1 hour. But it can be tiring because you have to go down 131 steps to get in and then to get out you have to climb 112 steps.
Do Not carry Luggage
Do not go with large bags or backpacks, because they will not let you pass and they have nowhere to leave them.
Best Time to Visit the Catacombs of Paris
We believe the best time to visit the catacombs is during the autumn or winter months, i.e. from September to March.
The main reason is that during the summer months, from June to August, the Paris Catacombs tend to be very crowded due to the large influx of tourists visiting the city.
Lines to enter can be very long, and the interior can be crowded, making the visit less enjoyable.
Accommodations Near Catacombs of Paris
If one of the places you will visit in Paris are the catacombs, you need to know which hotels are nearby. The catacombs are in the Montparnasse district, so you can look for hotels around here.
We bring you these recommendations of accommodations near the Catacombs.
*Disclosure: Price may change by season, booking date, etc.
They are located 1.1 kilometers from the catacombs, so it will take you less than 15 minutes to walk there.
It is a 4-star hotel that has an indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna and terrace. It offers buffet, continental or vegetarian breakfast options. It also has a bar, so you can have a drink and a bite to eat right there if you want.
It is an ideal hotel for art lovers, especially for painting.
The double room starts at 274€.
Hôtel du Maine
This hotel has less original decoration than the previous one, but it is still beautiful.
It also has a restaurant offering some light dishes and a bar with a good variety of drinks. The hotel offers a buffet breakfast every morning.
The hotel is less than 900 meters from the catacombs, so you can connect both places with a 10-minute walk.
Double rooms start at 197€.
Hôtel Du Midi Paris Montparnasse
It is one of the closest hotels to the catacombs. It is only 140 meters away.
It is a very elegant hotel and many of its rooms have excellent views of the city, as well as being spacious and comfortable.
The hotel has a continental breakfast in its dining room.
The double room starts at 261€.
As you can see, the hotels in the area are more expensive than we usually recommend. It happens that the Montparnasse district is one of the most touristic neighborhoods in Paris and the location of these hotels makes them close to many attractions.
In addition, the area is one of the most elegant in the city and therefore, hotels tend to be more expensive.
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