By the end of the eighteenth century, Paris had a serious problem: what to do with all the dead bodies? The city’s poor were often buried in mass graves at the Saint Innocents Cemetery, near the center of the city. Eventually, it was filled way past capacity and the decaying corpses were polluting Paris’ groundwater. Finally, at the start of the nineteenth century, new graveyards around the outskirts of the city were built.
But what to do with the millions of skeletons at Saint Innocents? The solution lay in the city’s abandoned quarries. Alexandre Lenoir, Paris’ Police Lieutenant General, came up with the idea of transferring them there. The process took two years, all done under cover of darkness with the necessary burial rituals. Initially, the bones were simply deposited in the catacombs, but starting in 1810, they were arranged in the pattern that remains to this day. In the end, more than six million souls made this their final resting place.
The catacombs are definitely a little grim, but it’s fascinating to think about the lives these people lived. They were rich and poor, the scoundrels and the virtuous, but in the end they’re all anonymous and they all met the same fate. The entrance is hard to find, so keep your eyes open. Only 200 visitors are allowed inside at any given time and be ready to climb up and down stairs.
Metro: Denfert-Rochereau (RER B)
Hours: Open 10:00-17:00 except Mondays
€4.00 Youth (14-26)
Free Children Under 13