Morbid curiosity: les catacombes de Paris

“On neither the sun, nor death, can a man look fixedly,” 17th century French author François de La Rochefoucauld once said. Clearly, he hadn’t envisaged that people would later pay good money to stare at the skeletons in Paris’ catacombs.

In fairness, De La Rochefoucauld died long before the catacombs opened to the public in the early 1800s. They contain the remains of around six million people.

They fill the renovated tunnels beneath Place Denfert-Rochereau, in the 14th arrondissement. The idea came about when Le Cimetière des Innocents, near Saint-Eustache church by Les Halles, became overcrowded and the source of disease. The city decided to rebury its dead in quarries and mines on its outskirts.

For two years, from 1786, skeletons were transferred by cart at night to Place Denfert-Rochereau.

Originally, they were reburied in a haphazard fashion, but from 1810, they began to be stacked in the pattern we see now.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually able to see them during my recent visit to Paris. It was raining the morning we went, and the queue was ridiculously long, circling around the block. And it didn’t appear to be moving.

It’s a morbid treat I’ll have to save until the next time.

This entry was published on Monday, 7 July 2014 at 07:45. It’s filed under Places and people and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Morbid curiosity: les catacombes de Paris

  1. Ooh – I’ve never been sure about the catacombs. We visited them on our first visit to Paris. My husband and son both loved them but they were a bit too morbid for me. Hope you enjoy them when you get there.

  2. We managed to get in 20 years ago when there was no queue, but death has obviously increased in vogue as we have tried three times over recent visits, to take the children, but the queue has been insurmountable – fourth time lucky we hope, by turning up early, and staking out one of us in the queue while the others wait in a nearby cafe!

  3. I would never have visited the catacombs had a friend not insisted that it was really worth it. I visited it about three years ago and was even lucky enough not to have to wait in line. It’s quite a fascinating place and I couldn’t stop asking myself what all those people would have thought if they’d have known that would be their body’s final resting place.

  4. carlsonprock on said:

    I’ve always intrigued at how different cultures handle death. The catacombs is one of the more interesting places I’ve visited. Definitely worth a visit!

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