The Creepier Side Of Paris – Delving Below Street Level

by Marc Valentine


Paris's underground

If we were to meet on the street tomorrow… and I mentioned to you in conversation that I had just traveled to Paris…

I’d happily bet every dollar I had – that 1 of the following famous attractions people flock to Paris for, immediately popped into your mind…

1. The Eiffel Tower,
2. The Louvre
3. Montmarte, the area (for this purpose including the moulin rouge, the artists & the Sacre Coeur)
4. And probably for the ladies – Fashion.

But what if told you – the bravest travellers can experience an altogether different aspect of Paris… a tourist attraction that dates back to the 1700s and is visited by at least 6 million people per year…

I’m talking about the Underground Catacombs Of Paris…


Paris catacombs

A different view of Paris… the underground catacombs

Lurking deep under the streets of one of the most romantic cities in the world (130 steps to be exact)… Paris’ catacombs are a massive underground maze of tunnels & crypts that are estimated to be up to 300 kms long.

Lacking the lustre & grandeur of Paris’s most romanticised attractions, the curious traveler can still descend underground today, & explore a small area of this underground labrynth – however accessing the greater portion of the tunnels was outlawed in 1955…

Although I’ve heard stories about a secret society that frequently ventures into the tunnel system and were even sprung running an underground movie theatre…!

Complete with a functioning bar & restaurant, video surveillance system… including cctv & the motion triggered recording of a dog barking to try to deflect passers-by, the underground cinema was discovered by a special police unit that patrols the underground tunnels and shut down in 2004.

As the typical tourist takes the usual route around Paris… visiting the better known sites like Montmatre, snapping photos of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, many are completely oblivious to the dark & dreary attraction right under their very feet.

How Paris’ Catacombs Came To Be

Paris’ cemeteries became so overcrowded in the 1700s they started to cause hygiene problems for the city. Some smart chap came up with the idea of moving all Paris’ dead to an abandoned mine shaft… so that’s what they did.

Between 1786 – 1788 the remains of dead Parisians were exhumed and moved to the new burial place.

catacombs cross & skulls

Bones piled up inside the catacombs

The end result?

Paris’s catacombs are now home to approx 6 million skeletal remains…

No, If you were wondering, that figure’s not a typo – 6 million people are buried down there.

The section that can still be explored today is around 2kms long… a relatively small section of the 3oo km long tunnels – but seriously how much time do you want to spend underground with 6 million dead people anyway?

It’s an eery feeling walking around in a poorly lit tunnel, below the streets of Paris… brushing past huge piles of bones & skeletons that are stacked over head height in some cases – and deep along the tunnel walls on either side leaving a thin centre isle, like a supermarket isle (bad metaphor I know)…

There are even street signs on the ceilings & walls inside the Catacombs that correspond with the streets above, so the workers could navigate the tunnels without getting lost…


Catacombs date

1781 a date carved into the stone

… if you’ve got a keen eye you may even spot some dates carved into the stone in various locations… really drilling home how old these tunnels are.

There are 2 astounding sights that I certainly never expected to see in an underground tunnel below Paris and are certain to stop you in your tracks…

2 incredible chateaux carved into the tunnels limestone walls, recalled & carved entirely by memory.


Underground Chateau Paris

Paris’ Underground Chateau

I don’t know about you, but if you stuck me underground tomorrow I couldn’t recall my own bedroom with that much detail.

The underground tour takes about 1hr and you pop out at a completely unrecognisable backstreet somewhere in the Denfert – Rochereau area.

Get There

Take the RER B
From Saint Lazare station
Stop at Denfert-Rochereau station

The catacombs are open daily form 10am – 5pm (last admission at 4pm)
Get there early we waited about an hour to get inside.

You can get more info about visiting the Catacombs here

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen July 27, 2012 at 9:35 am

Maybe its just coz i’m a wierdo, but if there was any reason i would want to Visit Paris, this would be it!


Marc Valentine July 27, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Haha this was awesome – right up your alley Ellen.


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