What to Expect on a Paris Catacombs Tour
Paris has a worldwide reputation as a city brimming with history, art & culture, and glamor. When in Paris, while visiting popular attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum might be right at the top of your bucket list, if you’re looking for something to do off the beaten path, head to the eerie Paris Catacombs. An open graveyard, the Catacombs holds the remains of more than 6 million Parisians right from back in the 1700s. On a Paris Catacombs tour, visitors have the rare opportunity to witness numerous collections of skull and bones, all arranged in rhythmic patterns! Read on to know about a typical Paris Catacombs tour.
What to Expect on A Paris Catacombs Tour
Your experience will begin at an unassuming black gate at the Paris Catacombs entrance; it can be easily identified with long waiting lines. Your best bet here is to book skip-the-line tickets and head straight to security check.
On entering, you’ll go down 131 steps, about 20 meters under the streets of Paris, into a maze of narrow corridors, stone sculpture galleries and a museum, before you reach the main area. The entrance is signified by a warning carved into the door lintel that reads ‘Arrête! C’est ici L’empire de la Mort’, meaning ‘Stop! This is the empire of the dead.
Once inside the Catacombs, the first thing that visitors usually notice is a peculiar smell that lingers in the air. The smell has been described by some as a dusty scent that will remind you of old stone churches, but it can definitely be attributed to the contents of the Catacombs.
While the number of skulls and bones on display is quite striking, what mostly leaves visitors gawking are the patterns in which the skeletal remains of millions of Parisians have been arranged. Skulls and femur bones can be found piled into towers, crosses and symmetrical patterns. These ornately designed ‘objects of curiosity’ are over 6-feet high and on all sides of the winding paths in the tunnels.
The Catacombs’ entry and exit is carefully monitored to not allow more than 200 visitors inside the tunnels at any given time. This allows you to explore the Catacombs in peace and there’ll be times when you find yourself alone, sharing space with only the dead and not too many visitors around you. While the entry to the Catacombs is located on 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, visitors climb up about 112 steps and exit around 500 meters away at Rue Rémy Dumoncel.
What to See at the Paris Catacombs
Every part of the Paris Catacombs’ almost-2 km stretch is a sight to behold. During your Paris Catacombs tour, you’ll come across various interesting arrangements and sections that are home to the departed. Here are some unique ones to keep an eye out for.
Port Mahon Sculpture
The Port Mahon Sculpture is a misplaced work of art. It is a stone sculpture replica of the Port Mahon Palace from Menorca, Spain. It was sculpted on the limestone wall by Francois Décure, a quarry worker who was once imprisoned in Spain there as a soldier for five years. He was later killed at the same spot while working on an access tunnel.
Another famous thing to see inside the Catacombs is a well, with waters that are a deep turquoise in color. The well originally functioned as a source of water for the quarrymen who worked there before and during the construction of the tunnels. The water, interestingly enough, is still available despite several hundred years having passed. Its depth isn’t accurately known.
One of the first things you notice before entering the Catacombs is the entry sign. The main Catacombs network is ominously marked to warn you of the macabre ambiance inside. The entrance to the ossuary bears a haunting inscription, saying, ‘Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort’ which can be translated to ‘Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead’.
Barrel of Passion
Right in the (so-called) heart of the Catacombs lies the ironically-titled prime attraction, the Barrel of Passion. Located in the Crypt of Passion area, prepare to spot a symmetrical, barrel-shaped structure that is made entirely out of skulls and bones. Its size is massive, which can be seen clearly since it holds up the roof as a support system.
Paris Catacombs Tour FAQs
Yes. You can pre-book your Paris Catacombs tour online now.
It should take you about 45 minutes to an hour to cover the almost-2 km stretch at the Paris Catacombs.
Individuals aged 14 and above can opt for a Paris Catacombs tour; children between ages 10-14 must be accompanied by an adult. The attraction recommends that the following groups of people avoid visiting: those with a motor disability, pregnant women, individuals with claustrophobia or any respiratory or cardiac-related health issues, children under the age of 10.
200 guests are permitted per time slot at the Paris Catacombs. Make sure to book your skip-the-line tickets in advance.
There’s plenty to see and explore at the Paris Catacombs. Walk through the museum, and keep an eye out for prime attractions like the Barrel of Passion, Port-Mahon Corridor, The Quarryman’s Footpath, the underground well, and the Ossuary.
There are 131 steps to go down to the Catacombs, and 112 to climb up towards the exit.