Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs of Paris or Catacombes de Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris. Located south of the former city gate (the "Barrière d’Enfer" at today's Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuaries hold the remains of about six million people and fill a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of historical stone mines, giving it its reputation as "The World's Largest Grave".

Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1874.

The Catacombs are one of the 14 City of Paris Museums that have been incorporated since January 1, 2013, in the public institution Paris Musées. The official name for the catacombs is l'Ossuaire Municipal. Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground tunnels comprising "les carrières de Paris" ("the quarries of Paris"), Parisians today often refer to the entire tunnel network as "the catacombs".

The entry to the catacombs is in the western pavilion of the former Barrière d'Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channeling local springs away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France's Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort ("Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead").

Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created "keg" bone arrangement.

Along the way one would find other "monuments" created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised "La Samaritaine" because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other "unvisitable" parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours.