I’ve always wanted to visit Paris, but it probably isn’t for the reason you think.
Of course, many people see a trip to the “City of Love” as a romantic getaway. As for me, I’m much more interested in its creepiest attraction, the morbidly beautiful Catacombs of Paris. These underground ossuaries have been called the world’s largest grave, and it isn’t hard to see why — they hold the bones of over six million people.
From the Middle Ages until the late 18th century, Les Innocents, or the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery, was the city’s main graveyard. However, it became overcrowded in the late 12th century.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, citizens began constructing vaults called “charniers” inside the cemetery walls and moved some of the bones into them to relieve the overcrowding. But despite these efforts, a wall eventually collapsed and the conditions of Les Innocents became so bad that burials were forbidden there and in all other Paris cemeteries after 1780.
This left the city with the massive issue of finding a new burial ground. Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir, who had been involved in investigating the underground mines of Paris, suggested that the city should move its dead to a limited section of the mines. Officials agreed, and they started renovations to turn the area into an ossuary.
Beginning in 1786, millions of bodies were exhumed from Les Innocents as well as other cemeteries in Paris and moved to the Catacombs. It took about two years to empty most of them.
It started as just a storage area for bones, but it was renovated into a mausoleum that people could visit in 1810. Skulls and femurs were stacked and arranged into patterns, and cemetery decorations were added.
Limited visits were allowed in the early 1800s, and then it opened to the public on a regular basis in 1874 with the entrance through a building at the Place Denfert-Rochereau public square.
Now it is a popular, if not slightly unsettling, tourist attraction. You can’t see every part of it, as some areas have been deemed “unvisitable,” but one thing’s for sure — it has to be an incredible experience to be there.
Would you visit this place if you had the chance?
My answer is a definite yes — but I’m sure you already knew that. SHARE this with others so they can learn about the history of this beautiful old haunt, too!