Catacombs of Paris History

Catacombs of Paris History

History of The Catacombs of Paris begins in the late 18th century, when it was discovered that the cemeteries in the city had begun to overflow, in addition to becoming quite putrid and unhygienic. These cemeteries had been the resting place of uncountable generations of Parisians, and had been in existence since the early Medieval period. However, owing to the overflowing cemeteries, Louis XV, the then king of France, ordered all the burials to be done in the underground tunnels in the city, some of which were many centuries old. And so, by 1780s, hundreds and thousands of graves of the Parisians, who had been dead for many decades or even centuries, were ungraved, and their skeletal remains were then packed together into charniers or mass graves, which were then placed atop one another into the walls of the cemetery of the 5th century Notre Dame des Bois Church. It took close to 12 years to move the corpses under the city, with newer corpses piling up and thereby extending the Catacombs to 800 hectares. The history of the Catacombs in Paris is not a bright and happy one, it is as chilling as it can possibly get, with more than 7 million corpses calling it home.

The Ossuary

The Ossuary plays a significant role in the history of the Paris Catacombs, especially since it is one of the largest ossuaries in the whole world, in addition to being one of the only few that are located underground. An ossuary is a room in which the bones of the dead people are placed. The Ossuary in the Catacombs of Paris opened to the public in the year 1809, with extensive rearrangement done to transform it into some sort of a museum or monument.

According to the history of the Catacombs in Paris, the bones from the cemeteries, which had earlier been kept in a loose pile, were then organised into the walls of the Ossuary. The façade of this wall consisted of alternating rows of the skulls and tibiae, in the front, while the rest of the bones were piled together behind. Then, certain sections of the Ossuary were named after religious, romantic or antique sources. In a way, the Ossuary used to formerly serve as a quarry, which was then transformed into this kind of a vault for the dead, in the 18th century. The construction of the Ossuary also resulted in a shift in the main purpose of the Catacombs of Paris, as it then began to be used as an extension of the same.

Chronological Milestones

  • The history of the Catacombs in Paris began in the 14th century, when the first underground quarries were created in the city
  • In 1774, owing to the collapse of the Rue Denfert-Rochereau, 300 metres of these quarries were swallowed up
  • Then, in September of 1776, Louis XVI signed a decree that prohibited the extraction of materials from under the public roads
  • In April 1777, Louis XVI created the Department of General Quarry Inspection, which would protect the Parisian quarries
  • In 1780, the Saints-Innocents cemetery was officially closed
  • The Tombe-Issoire quarries were then consecrated in April 1786, and then began to be known as the Catacombs
  • The transfer of the bones from the Parisian cemeteries was done between 1787 and 1814
  • The Catacombs of Paris opened to the public in 1809
  • Between 1810 to 1814, the rearrangement of the ossuary was done by Inspector Héricart de Thury
  • In 1860, the last bone deposits after the urban development of the city were undertaken by Haussmann
  • In 2002, the Catacombs were then attached to the Carnavalet Museum- History of Paris, to promote this site
  • It was in 2017, that the new exit and the bookstore-boutique were inaugurated
  • Then, in 2019, the new entrance in the restored Ledoux house was inaugurated

Also Book: Skip the Line Palace of Versailles Tickets

The Architecture

According to the history of the Catacombs in Paris, it was during the reign of Louis XVI that it was decided that a wall would be built around Paris. This wall would be 24 kilometres long and have 55 entry points.

Regarded as one of the most ambitious architectural and urban projects of that time, this barrier, which would later be known as the Gate of Hell, would have two symmetrical rectangular pavilions. These would face each other on either side of the Route d’Orleans. The design was based on the propylaea of Ancient Greece, and would recall the State’s power since anyone who crossed the barrier would have to pay an entrance fee.

The Paris Catacombs, as it was eventually known as, thereafter became a complex of almost 200 miles of tunnels, which housed the remains of over 7 million Parisians, in the former Tombe-Issoire quarries under the plain of the Montrouge in Paris. In the early years of the Catacombs of Paris history, this place had a disorganised bone repository, with galleries and mausoleums being made after 1810. Then, with extensive renovation initiated by Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, Director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service, the skulls and other bone fragments were stacked into the patterns as they are presented today.

Must Checkout: Eiffel Tower Tickets Price


When were the Paris Catacombs built?

The history of the Catacombs of Paris begins in the 18th century, when it was opened to the public in 1809. However, the arrangements for the construction of the Catacombs began as early as in 1786.

Who is buried in the Paris Catacombs?

The Catacombs of Paris history suggests that the remains of over 7 million residents of Paris, some of which date back to as early as the 5th century, are buried in the Paris Catacombs.

Are the skulls in the Catacombs real?

Yes, the skulls in the Catacombs are very much real. In addition to the skulls, you can also see the bones and other fragmental remains of the dead Parisians in the Catacombs.

What killed the people in the Paris Catacombs?

Based on the Catacombs of Paris history, there are several reasons why the people here died. In addition to death due to natural causes like illness or old age, a large number of Parisians were killed during the French Revolution.

Hundreds and thousands of remains here also belong to those who were killed by guillotine. However, the very beginning of the Paris Catacombs suggests that a vast majority of the people buried here died the Black Death, due to the Bubonic Plague, which remains one of the worst epidemics in history.

Who made the Catacombs under Paris?

The Catacombs under Paris were made by King Louis XVI, the then king of France.


The content and images used on this site are copyright protected and copyrights vests with the respective owners.

© 2024 All rights reserved.