Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs of Paris (French: Catacombes de Paris,  ) are underground ossuaries in Paris, France, which hold the remains of more than six million people[1] in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris' ancient stone mines. Extending south from the Barrière d'Enfer ("Gate of Hell") former city gate, this ossuary was created as part of the effort to eliminate the city's overflowing cemeteries. Preparation work began not long after a 1774 series of gruesome Saint Innocents-cemetery-quarter basement wall collapses added a sense of urgency to the cemetery-eliminating measure, and from 1786, nightly processions of covered wagons transferred remains from most of Paris' cemeteries to a mine shaft opened near the Rue de la Tombe-Issoire.

The ossuary remained largely forgotten until it became a novelty-place for concerts and other private events in the early 19th century; after further renovations and the construction of accesses around Place Denfert-Rochereau, it was open to public visitation from 1874. Since January 1, 2013, the Catacombs number among the 14 City of Paris Museums managed by Paris Musées. Although the ossuary comprises only a small section of the underground "carrières de Paris" ("quarries of Paris"), Parisians presently often refer to the entire tunnel network as the catacombs.

Catacombs of Paris
The Catacombs
Crypt of the Sepulchral Lamp in the Catacombs of Paris
LocationPlace Denfert-Rochereau, 75014 Paris
CollectionsUnderground quarries of Paris in the late 18th century
WebsiteLes Catacombes de Paris


Paris' cemeteries

Saints Innocents 1550 Hoffbauer
Les Innocents cemetery during 1550.

Paris' earliest burial grounds were to the southern outskirts of the Roman-era Left Bank city. In ruins after the Roman empire's 5th-century end and the ensuing Frankish invasions, Parisians eventually abandoned this settlement for the marshy Right Bank: from the 4th century, the first known settlement there was on higher ground around a Saint-Etienne church and burial ground (behind the present Hôtel de Ville), and urban expansion on the Right Bank began in earnest after other ecclesiastical landowners filled in the marshlands from the late 10th century. Thus, instead of burying its dead away from inhabited areas as usual, the Paris Right Bank settlement began with cemeteries near its centre.

The most central of these cemeteries, a burial ground around the 5th-century Notre-Dame-des-Bois church, became the property of the Saint-Opportune parish after the original church was demolished by the 9th-century Norman invasions. When it became its own parish associated with the church of the "Saints Innocents" from 1130, this burial ground, filling the land between the present rue Saint-Denis, rue de la Ferronnerie, rue de la Lingerie and the rue Berger, had become the City's principal cemetery. By the end of the same century "Saints Innocents" was neighbour to the principal Parisian marketplace Les Halles, and already filled to overflowing. To make room for more burials, the long-dead were exhumed and their bones packed into the roofs and walls of "charnier" galleries built inside the cemetery walls. By the end of the 18th century, the central burial ground was a two-metre-high (6.6 ft) mound of earth filled with centuries of Parisian dead, plus the remains from the Hôtel-Dieu hospital and the Morgue; other Parisian parishes had their own burial grounds, but the conditions in Les Innocents cemetery were the worst.[2]

A series of ineffective decrees limiting the use of the cemetery did little to remedy the situation, and it was not until the late 18th century that it was decided to create three new large-scale suburban burial grounds on the outskirts of the city, and to condemn all existing parish cemeteries within city limits.[3]

The future ossuary: Paris' former mines

Plan paris gerards1908 jms
Map of former underground mine exploitations in Paris (1908).

Much of the Left Bank area rests upon rich Lutetian limestone deposits. This stone built much of the city, but it was extracted in suburban locations away from any habitation. Because of the post 12th-century haphazard mining technique of digging wells down to the deposit and extracting it horizontally along the vein until depletion, many of these (often illicit) mines were uncharted, and when depleted, often abandoned and forgotten. Paris had annexed its suburbs many times over the centuries, and by the 18th century many of its arrondissements (administrative districts) were or included previously mined territories.[4]

The undermined state of the Left Bank was known to architects as early as the early 17th-century construction of the Val-de-Grâce hospital (most of its building expenses were due to its foundations), but a series of mine cave-ins beginning 1774 with the collapse of a house along the "rue d'Enfer" (near today's crossing of the Avenue Denfert-Rochereau and the boulevard Saint-Michel) caused King Louis XVI to name a commission to investigate the state of the Parisian underground. This resulted in the creation of the inspection Générale des Carrières (Inspection of Mines) service.

Ossuary creation

The need to eliminate Les Innocents gained urgency from May 31, 1780, when a basement wall in a property adjoining the cemetery collapsed under the weight of the mass grave behind it. The cemetery was closed to the public and all intra muros (Latin: "within the [city] walls"[5]) burials were forbidden after 1780. The problem of what to do with the remains crowding intra muros cemeteries was still unresolved.

Mine consolidations were still occurring and the underground around the site of the 1777 collapse[6] that had initiated the project had already become a series of stone and masonry inspection passageways that reinforced the streets above. The mine renovation and cemetery closures were both issues within the jurisdiction of the Police Prefect Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir, who had been directly involved in the creation of a mine inspection service. Lenoir endorsed the idea of moving Parisian dead to the subterranean passageways that were renovated during 1782. After deciding to further renovate the "Tombe-Issoire" passageways for their future role as an underground sepulchre, the idea became law during late 1785.

A well within a walled property above one of the principal subterranean passageways was dug to receive Les Innocents' unearthed remains, and the property itself was transformed into a sort of museum for all the headstones, sculptures and other artifacts recuperated from the former cemetery. Beginning from an opening ceremony on 7 April the same year, the route between Les Innocents and the "clos de la Tombe-Issoire" became a nightly procession of black cloth-covered wagons carrying the millions of Parisian dead. It would take two years to empty the majority of Paris's cemeteries.[7]

Cemeteries whose remains were moved to the Catacombs include Saints-Innocents (the largest by far with about 2 million buried over 600 years of operation), Saint-Étienne-des-Grès[1] (one of the oldest), Madeleine Cemetery, Errancis Cemetery (used for the victims of the French Revolution), and Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux[2].

Renovation and ossuary decor

Wall made of skulls

The catacombs in their first years were a disorganized bone repository, but Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service from 1810, had renovations done that would transform the underground caverns into a visitable mausoleum. In addition to directing the stacking of skulls and femurs into the patterns seen in the catacombs today, he used the cemetery decorations he could find (formerly stored on the Tombe-Issoire property, many had disappeared after the 1789 Revolution) to complement the walls of bones. Also created was a room dedicated to the display of the various minerals found under Paris, and another showing various skeletal deformities found during the catacombs' creation and renovation. He also added monumental tablets and archways bearing inscriptions (that some found questionable) that were warnings, descriptions or other comments about the nature of the ossuary, and, for the safety of eventual visitors, it was walled from the rest of the Paris's Left Bank already-extensive underground tunnel network.[8]


Paris Catacombs Entrance
Entrance to the Catacombs

The Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians from their creation, an early visitor being the Count of Artois (later Charles X of France) during 1787. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war. First allowed only a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mines inspector, but later more frequently and permitted by any mine overseer, a flow of visitors degraded the ossuary to a point where the permission-only rule was restored from 1830, and the catacombs were closed completely from 1833 because of church opposition to exposing human remains to public display. Open again for four visits a year from 1850, public demand caused the government to allow monthly visits from 1867, bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month from 1874 (with an extra opening for the November 1 toussaint holiday), and weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 (the most visitors yet that year) and 1900 World's Fair Expositions. Later they opened for regular daily visits. After an incident of vandalism, the Catacombs were closed to the public during September 2009 and reopened on 19 December of the same year.[9]

Plan cata paris 1857 jms
Plan of the visitable Catacombes, drawn by the IGC (Inspection Générale des Carrières) during 1858.

Other events in the catacombs

  • Bodies of the dead from the riots in the Place de Grève, the Hôtel de Brienne, and Rue Meslée were put in the catacombs on 28 and 29 August 1788.
  • The tomb of the Val-de-Grâce hospital doorkeeper, Philibert Aspairt, lost in the catacombs during 1793 and found 11 years later, is located in the catacombs on the spot where his body was found.
  • During 1871, communards killed a group of monarchists there.
  • During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the tunnel system.
  • The Nazis established an underground bunker below Lycée Montaigne, a high school in the 6th arrondissement.
  • During 1974, the film The Holes was set within the Catacombs of Paris.[10]
  • During 2004, police discovered a fully equipped movie theater in one of the caverns. It was equipped with a giant cinema screen, seats for the audience, projection equipment, film reels of recent thrillers and film noir classics, a fully stocked bar, and a complete restaurant with tables and chairs. The source of its electrical power and the identity of those responsible remain unknown.[11]
  • During 2014 Ghost Adventures presenter Zak Bagans featured in a special episode entitled "NetherWorld: Paris Catacombs" without usual hosts Aaron Goodwin and Nick Groff while trying to learn more of the mysterious tape that contained the last known sighting of its owner and get in contact with the notorious "cataphiles".[12]
  • The film As Above, So Below, released in 2014, was the first production that secured permission from the French government to film in the catacombs. They aimed to use no alterations to the environment with the exception of a piano and a car which were hauled into the catacombs and set on fire.[13]
  • During 2015, Airbnb paid €350,000 as part of a publicity stunt offering customers the chance to stay overnight in the Catacombs.[14]
  • In August 2017, thieves broke into a cellar from the catacombs and stole more than €250,000 of wine.[15]

Disruption of surface structures

Although the catacombs offered space to bury the dead, they presented disadvantages to building structures; because the catacombs are directly under the Paris streets, large foundations cannot be built and cave-ins have destroyed buildings. For this reason, there are few tall buildings in this area.[16]


  1. ^ "Catacombs A Timeless Journey". Les Catacombes de Paris [Catacombs of Paris]. Retrieved 2015-01-05.
  2. ^ "The Catacombs of Paris: Underneath the city of light lies a chamber of darkness and death - CityMetric".
  3. ^ Geiling, Natasha. "Beneath Paris' City Streets, There's an Empire of Death Waiting for Tourists".
  4. ^ "Weird Wednesday: The mines of Paris".
  5. ^ "intra muros". Retrieved 2015-01-06.
  6. ^ (in French) « Par commission du 27 April 1777, M. Guillaumot, architecte du Roi, fut nommé au poste de contrôleur et inspecteur général en chef des Carrières. Signe du destin, une nouvelle maison s'effondra le jour même dans les carrières de la rue d'Enfer ! » Histoire de l'IGC.
  7. ^ "Paris Catacombs Visitor Information". Retrieved 2011-02-25.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Paris catacombs Vandalized, closed for repair". 2009-09-22. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
  10. ^ "IMDB article". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  11. ^ "La Mexicaine De Perforation". Urban-Resources. 2004. Retrieved August 23, 2004.
  12. ^ "Paris Catacombs : NetherWorld : Travel Channel".
  13. ^ "Filming in the Paris Catacombs for As Above, So Below". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Paris catacombs: Airbnb stay in 'world's largest grave'".
  15. ^ "Thieves bore into cellar from Paris catacombs to steal €250,000 of wine".
  16. ^ Michaels, Sean. "Unlocking the Mystery of Paris' Most Secret Underground Society (combined)".

Further reading

External links

Coordinates: 48°50′02.43″N 2°19′56.36″E / 48.8340083°N 2.3323222°E

As Above, So Below (film)

As Above, So Below is a 2014 American thriller film written and directed by John Erick Dowdle and co-written by his brother Drew. It is presented as found footage of a documentary crew's experience exploring the Catacombs of Paris. The film was produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Universal Pictures, making it the first film in Legendary's deal with Universal. The film was released on August 29, 2014, and stars Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Marhyar.

Brno Ossuary

Brno Ossuary is an underground ossuary in Brno, Czech Republic. It was rediscovered in 2001 in the historical centre of the city, partially under the Church of St. James. It is estimated that the ossuary holds the remains of over 50 thousand people which makes it the second-largest ossuary in Europe, after the Catacombs of Paris. The ossuary was founded in the 17th century, and was expanded in the 18th century. It's been opened to public since June 2012.


Catacombs are human-made subterranean passageways for religious practice. Any chamber used as a burial place is a catacomb, although the word is most commonly associated with the Roman Empire.

Catacombs (2007 film)

Catacombs is a 2007 American horror film directed by Tomm Coker and David Elliot and starring Shannyn Sossamon and Alecia Moore. The plot follows a young woman attempting to find her way out of the Catacombs of Paris with a killer pursuing her.

It is the first original film from FEARnet, collaborating with Lions Gate Entertainment. The film's soundtrack was produced by Yoshiki Hayashi and Jonathon Pratt and was released on October 7, 2007.


Cataphiles are urban explorers who illegally tour the Mines of Paris, a term popularly used to describe a series of underground tunnels that were built as a network of stone mines, which are no longer used. The Catacombs of Paris comprise a subset of this network.

Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas

“Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas” is verse 490 of Book 2 of the "Georgics" (29 BC), by the Latin poet Virgil (70 - 19 BC). It is literally translated as: “Fortunate who was able to know the causes of things”. Dryden rendered it: "Happy the Man, who, studying Nature's Laws, / Thro' known Effects can trace the secret Cause" (The works of Virgil, 1697). Virgil may have had in mind the Roman philosopher Lucretius, of the Epicurean school.

Inspection générale des carrières

The Inspection générale des carrières (IGC) is the organisation which administers, controls and maintains the mines of Paris and catacombs of Paris. It was founded by royal decree of Louis XVI on 4 April 1777 as the 'Service des carrières du département de la Seine'.

List of cemeteries in France

This is a list of cemeteries in France.

Cimetière de Bagneux, Paris - burial place for Jean Vigo, Gribouille, Alfred Jarry and others.

Catacombs of Paris, millions of remains in caves and tunnels under the city of Paris.

Cimetière de Batignolles, Paris, resting place of France's famous sons André Breton and Paul-Marie Verlaine, among others.

Cimetière des Gonards, Versailles, burial place for Edith Wharton, Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte and others.

Cimetière de La Guillotière, Lyon

Cimetière de Loyasse, Lyon

Grand Jas Cemetery, Cannes - buried here are Lily Pons, Peter Carl Fabergé, Martine Carol and other celebrities

Cimetière de Levallois-Perret, Paris, resting place of Maurice Ravel, Louise Michel (The Red Virgin) and Gustave Eiffel

Les Invalides, Paris - war heroes including Napoleon

Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris - resting place of Edgar Degas, Heinrich Heine, Georges Feydeau, the Cancan dancer, known as La Goulue (Louise Weber) among other artists (notably Dalida and Vaslav Nijinsky) and writers (like Alexandre Dumas, fils). But also many others. Émile Zola was initially buried here, but his remains were later moved to the Panthéon. His gravestone can still be seen here, however.

Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris - serves the great artistic quarter of Montparnasse, including the graves of Charles Baudelaire, Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Seberg, Serge Gainsbourg and Man Ray. Pierre Laval and Porfirio Díaz are also buried here among many, many others.

Neuilly-sur-Seine community cemetery resting place of Anatole France among others.

Panthéon, Paris - France's most honored, including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Émile Zola.

Cimetière de Pantin in Paris is the burial site of the singer Damia, and other notables.

Cimetière de Passy, Paris - Claude Debussy, Édouard Manet and many others.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris - resting place of famous persons such as Colette, Baron Georges Haussmann, Eugène Delacroix, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Molière, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Gertrude Stein, Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust and Frédéric Chopin. Many French Holocaust victims (and their camps) are commemorated there.

Saint Denis Basilica, Paris - burial site for French Royalty.

Cimetière de Saint-Ouen, Paris - where, on 24 May 1430, Joan of Arc was told to recant or face summary execution. Some of those buried here are the painters Suzanne Valadon, Jules Pascin, and tennis star Suzanne Lenglen.

Saint Remi Basilica, Reims, Champagne-Ardenne, France

Cimetière Saint-Vincent, a small cemetery in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris contains the graves of such notables as Arthur Honegger, Marcel Carné, Maurice Utrillo and others.

Saint Roch Cemetery, Grenoble, painters, sculptors and mayors.

Besancon (St. Claude) Communal Cemetery, Doubs.

List of reportedly haunted locations in France

There are numerous reportedly haunted locations in France. This list alphabetizes by region (including overseas regions and collectivities) these places and then alphabetically within each region (including overseas regions and collectivities).

Mines of Paris

The mines of Paris (in French carrières de Paris — "quarries of Paris") comprise a number of abandoned, subterranean mines under Paris, France, connected together by galleries. Three main networks exist; the largest, known as the grand réseau sud ("large south network"), lies under the 5th, 6th, 14th and 15th arrondissements, a second under the 13th arrondissement, and a third under the 16th, though other minor networks are found under the 12th, 14th and 16th for instance. The commercial product was Lutetian limestone for use as a building material, as well as gypsum for use in "plaster of Paris".

Exploring the mines is prohibited by the prefecture and penalised with large fines. Despite restrictions, Paris' former mines are frequently toured by urban explorers known popularly as cataphiles.

A limited part of the network 1.7 kilometres (1.1 mi) has been used as an underground ossuary, known as the catacombs of Paris, some of which can be toured legally. (The catacombs were temporarily closed between September and 19 December 2009 due to vandalism, after which they could be legally visited again from the entrance on Place Denfert-Rochereau). The entire subterranean network is commonly but mistakenly referred to as "the catacombs".


Montparnasse (French pronunciation: ​[mɔ̃paʁnas]) (French ) is an area of Paris, France, on the left bank of the river Seine, centered at the crossroads of the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Rue de Rennes, between the Rue de Rennes and boulevard Raspail. Montparnasse has been part of Paris since 1669.

The area also gives its name to:

Gare Montparnasse: trains to Brittany, TGV to Rennes, Tours, Bordeaux, Le Mans; rebuilt as a modern TGV station;

The large Montparnasse – Bienvenüe métro station;

Cimetière du Montparnasse: the Montparnasse Cemetery, where Charles Baudelaire, Constantin Brâncuși, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Man Ray, Samuel Beckett, Serge Gainsbourg or Susan Sontag are buried among other celebrities;

Tour Montparnasse, a lone skyscraper.The Pasteur Institute is located in the area. Beneath the ground are tunnels of the Catacombs of Paris.

Students in the 17th century who came to recite poetry in the hilly neighbourhood nicknamed it after "Mount Parnassus", home to the nine Muses of arts and sciences in Greek mythology.

The hill was levelled to construct the Boulevard Montparnasse in the 18th century. During the French Revolution many dance halls and cabarets opened their doors.

The area is also known for cafés and bars, such as the Breton restaurants specialising in crêpes (thin pancakes) located a few blocks from the Gare Montparnasse.


An ossuary is a chest, box, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is.

Philibert Aspairt

Philibert Aspairt (died 1793) was a doorkeeper of the Val-de-Grâce hospital during the French Revolution. He died in the underground Catacombs of Paris in November of 1793 after entering them via a staircase located in the hospital courtyard. His motives are unknown. His body was not discovered until 1804, 11 years later, in one of the quarry galleries and was buried where it was found. The cause of his death was never determined. Aspairt might have been identified by the hospital key ring hanging from his belt.

His tomb is in the restricted part of the Paris catacombs, under the rue Henri Barbusse, next to the boulevard Saint-Michel.

Saints-Pères Cemetery

Saints-Pères Cemetery (cimetière des Saints-Pères) is a historic cemetery in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, sited at what is now 30 rue des Saints-Pères.

After being forced to give up the Saint-Germain Cemetery in 1604, the Protestants of Paris bought a rectangular garden on the moulin du Pré-aux-Clercs mound on rue des Saints-Pères from Joachim Meurier, a master goldsmith from Île de la Cité. It was roughly 13 toise (24 m) by 23 toise (42 m). The first burials were on 21 March 1604 and the cemetery was used up until the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, after which it was renamed Charité Cemetery (cimetière de la Charité) and used by the Hôpital de la Charité. It was enclosed by a 3m high wall and received at least one body a day. Like all the inner-city cemeteries, it was closed in 1785 by order of the inspector general of quarries Charles-Axel Guillaumot - the contents of its tombs and charnel houses and its burials at a depth of at least 100m were transferred to the new Catacombs of Paris, a set of re-used quarries on what is now Rue de la Tombe-Issoire.

Scariest Places on Earth

Scariest Places on Earth is an American paranormal reality television series that originally aired from October 23, 2000, to October 29, 2006, on Fox Family, and later ABC Family. The show was hosted by Linda Blair, with narration by Zelda Rubinstein. The show featured reported cases of the paranormal by detailing the location's history, and then sending an ordinary family to visit the location in a reality TV-style vigil.

Seattle Underground

The Seattle Underground is a network of underground passageways and basements in downtown Pioneer Square, Seattle, Washington, United States that were at ground level when the city was built in the mid-19th century. After the streets were elevated, these spaces fell into disuse, but have become a tourist attraction in recent decades.

The Sower (novel)

The Sower (2009) is the bestselling second novel by American author Kemble Scott, pen name of Scott James, writer of a weekly column about the San Francisco Bay Area published in both The Bay Citizen and The New York Times.It was the first novel in publishing history to be sold in digital form by Scribd, the document sharing website. The Sower premiered on May 18, 2009 in conjunction with the launch of the company's book selling division, Scribd Store. The author's decision to break with tradition and offer a first release of a new novel as a digital book received worldwide media attention, including coverage in The New York Times, The Times, The Los Angeles Times, and on National Public Radio.The media coverage led to offers to create a printed version. On August 31, 2009 Numina Press published the first hardcover edition, which instantly hit the San Francisco Chronicle's bestsellers list, premiering at #5 for that week.

The Sower is a darkly comic novel that tells the story of a California oil worker who becomes the sole carrier of a manmade virus that appears to cure all diseases. But the only way this cure is passed to others is through sex. Large forces conspire to prevent this from happening by plotting to control or destroy the virus and its host.

Written as a pastiche of the thriller novel genre, the storyline employs international intrigue that takes the plot around the world to exotic locations, including the San Francisco underground, the catacombs of Paris, a yacht on the Amazon river, the Vatican in Rome, and a bedroom in the U.S. presidential retreat Camp David. Villains in the story include highly fictionalized parodies of controversial evangelical minister Rev. Rick Warren, pop star Madonna, and president George W. Bush.

In October 2010, a second digital edition of was released: The Sower 2.0. Debuting exclusively on Scribd, the new version was reimagined by the author and updated with topical references for late 2010. Considered the first version 2.0 of a novel, the second digital edition was also used reading technology from Apture to allow readers to get information on words and phrases in the novel via pop-up screens. On November 15, 2010, a digital edition of The Sower 2.0 became available for Amazon's Kindle.


A tomb (from Greek: τύμβος tumbos) is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes. Placing a corpse into a tomb can be called immurement, and is a method of final disposition, as an alternative to for example cremation or burial.

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