Paris’s Catacombes … 6 million skeletons …

It seems incredible.  The skeletons of 6 million people in one place! The first question that comes to mind is: Did they die in a pandemic? I am now referring to Paris’s Catacombes where I spent a fascinating 3 hours a couple of Sundays ago.  Should you live in Paris and you’ve never been there, […]

All genuine ...

It seems incredible.  The skeletons of 6 million people in one place! The first question that comes to mind is: Did they die in a pandemic?

I am now referring to Paris’s Catacombes where I spent a fascinating 3 hours a couple of Sundays ago.  Should you live in Paris and you’ve never been there, or should be planning a visit to Paris, do put the Catacombes on your list. I can say that you will never forget it, even should you live to be the oldest person in the world.

No flashes please: We are skeletons and like the dark.

The Catacombes date from the last part of the 18th century. It so happened that Paris’s cemeteries had become rather crowded, also burial was not as sophisticated as it is today, so those who lived around cemeteries did have reason to complain of pollution. (I don’t think those days they called it such a polite word as ‘pollution’, but you will know what I mean.)

So, another burial place had to be found and in 1785 the Conseil d’État decided that the disused gypsum mines underneath Paris would be an ideal new lieu of burial. And so several of the cemeteries of Paris and the communes around the city were emptied out, and the remains removed from the tombs were deposited in the gypsum mines. This continued until 1860 and it was not long before the Parisians began to go down into the mines to see the skulls and the bones.

Visitors today enter the Catacombes on Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris’s 14th arrondissement– district. Its official address is 1, Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, but forget about that and just take the metro to Denfert-Rochereau station and when you exit you will see a small dark-green wooden hut which is the entrance to the Catacombes. As you exit the metro station, right ahead of you will be the huge statue of the Lion of Belfort and the dark-green wooden hut will to the right of the lion.

Place Denfert-Rochereau's lion

The Catacombes are open every day but Monday and Public Holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors are allowed in up to 4 p.m. Know that you will be walking for 2 kilometers (1.3 miles) down there, and if you are going to take your time your visit will take about 2 hours. As I said, I stayed down there for 3 hours, unable to pull myself away from the magnificent sight that was all around me.

You ought also to know that you have to descend 130 steps right at the entrance and then to climb up 83 steps at the end to resurface. The steps are of stone, steep and winding.  Also, take a small torch with you. There are lights down there of course, but you will be much better off having additional lighting. And – you can’t take photos down there using a flash. And – don’t feel tempted to help yourself to a skull or a bone because you will be caught out as there is CCTV down there and someone sits watching the corridors and chambers all the time.

You will exist far from the place where you entered. This will be on the narrow Rue Rémy Dumoncel . Across from the exit there is a small souvenir shop where you can buy postcards, fridge magnets, decorative candles in the form of a skull and all sorts of other *deathly* kind of souvenirs – even a salad spoon in the form of a skeleton arm. The owner of the shop is a charming Frenchman who is fluent in English.

Skulls and bones

And oh yes – there are no toilets down there and nowhere to find something to drink should you get thirsty. There are a few old stone benches if your legs should become a bit wobbly from fatigue, but these are not really for you to sit on, but were constructed for the use of mourners during masses. Yes, mass was said for the deceased at the time of the transfer of their remains.

It costs €8 ($11 / £7) to go in. And prepare yourself to stand in line for quite a while. I stood in line for an hour, but then it was on a Sunday.

Enjoy.

The entrance - always a wait

 

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response

11-8-2011 at 14:11:31

I never did make it to the catacombs. I also missed out on a chapel in Portugal which is full of skeletons and skulls too. These days there is no way I can do much of that kind of tourism.

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