Beneath the City of Lights

Catacombs Sign


Beneath the City of Lights


Beneath the City of Lights lies 200 miles of 13th Century tunnels. Tunnels that once bustled with

activity from miners extracting limestone blocks; blocks used to build the major European hub 60

feet above, Paris. These tunnels sat empty into the 1700's, but toward the end of the century 

that would change. These same Tunnels today are one of the most visited tourist sites in Paris, The



By the time the 17th century was closing, Paris had a quickly compounding problem.

The European hub had become highly populated very rapidly. Larger populations inherently

come with a higher quantity of deaths and need for burial.  For centuries, the traditional urban

burial would take place in the churchyard. However, after centuries of burials, placing thousands

of bodies in these landlocked churchyards; there was nowhere else to go except vertical.

Historical descriptions depict some church yards growing by 20 feet vertically against the

outside of the church. By the 1760’s it had become clear that something with burials had to



In 1763, the first step was taken to change how burials were handled. Louis XV declared

no burials were to be allowed within the city limits of Paris. This prevented the problem from

growing, but the existing situation had gone too far.


In the Spring of 1780, a prolonged rainy season caused a horrific event at Les Innocents.

Les Innocents was a 4th century burial ground active for more than 10 decades. It is estimated

that the grounds were the final resting place of an estimated 6 million people. During an

extensive spring rain, a wall surrounding the burial grounds collapse, spilling remains onto

neighboring property. This was the last straw, officials were forced to develop a solution to this

horrific problem. Over the next several years’ officials sought to find a solution. In 1786 With no

other viable options, steps were taken to relocate all bodies from the burial grounds in Paris, to

the limestone tunnels under the city. An estimated 6-7 million unknown skeletal remains and

bodies were moved to what is now known as The Catacombs,  


Today only a small portion of the tunnels are open to the public, but even in that small

percentage of the catacombs you can grasp the magnitude of the project that took place.


Catacombs Sign

Map of the catacombs


Geiling, N. (2014, March 28). Beneath Paris’ City Streets, There’s an Empire of Death Waiting for Tourists. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from

Taylor, T. (2001). FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE: CEMETERY HISTORY. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from ISBN: 1892523124 Beyond the Grave

Nechvatal, J. (2016, March 18). Connecting with Humanity in the Paris Catacombs. Retrieved March 22, 2017, from

Waddell, J. (1970, January 01). Haunted Paris Catacombs, the City of Bones Retrieved March 22, 2017, from


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