Taking Kids To The Catacombs of Paris
Activity: The Catacombs of Paris. Metro Stop: Denfert-Rochereau. Cost: NOT covered by museum pass, 12 euro, 17 and under free, reserve in advance! Hours: Always open, changing of the guard at 11 am.
If you forget to get a reservation, get there at 10 AM when it opens and hopefully you’ll miss some of the lines! There is a 2 hour line to get in, so reservations are a must. The only thing worse than lines on vacation are lines with CHILDREN on vacation.
They won’t allow you to take large bags in (for fear people will steal the bones!) but a stroller with durable wheels should be ok. I haven’t tried to get in with a baby backpack. I imagine an Ergo would be OK, but they might balk at one of the bigger baby backpacks. It’s long-ish dusty underground walk filled with bones the whole way. Unless you want your toddler or small child touching old bones, it is advisable to have smaller children contained in some way, by either backpack or stroller. Do not go if you’re claustrophobic or if you suffer from medical problems that could be exacerbated by low levels of oxygen.
The Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries in Paris, France which hold the remains of more than six million people. It’s beyond creepy and cool. These cities are so old that they have body disposal problems. The cemeteries fill up.
The grave diggers would try to bury one body and unearth ten people's bones, some hundreds of years old. And when hundreds of people are dying a day the only way to manage them is to dump them in mass graves.
So around 1772 the stench and pestilence around the cemeteries was souring the milk in the surrounding homes and the attic ossuaries around the cemeteries were so overloaded they began to collapse.
At the same time Paris was filled with sinkholes caused by the miles of limestone quarries beneath the city from which all of the gorgeous chapels and buildings were built. They had taken the rock from underground and stacked it above ground and Paris was starting to cave in.
The solution presented itself: the support columns would be built in the quarries and the quarries would be filled with the ancient bones from all of the cemeteries. The cemeteries, thus emptied, would be closed and new ones on the outside of the city would be opened.
And so the sifting began. Imagine the morbid process. Because it was distasteful, the whole enterprise was done in the night. The workers would sift the land in the cemeteries and load the bones onto carts. The carts were then covered in black cloth and ceremoniously dragged to the opening of the quarries. Once there they were dumped and then stacked into patterns out of respect for the dead. Once imbedded into the tunnels a plaque saying which cemetery the bones came from was placed in front of the stacks.
They are all anonymous. There are bones from every age in the history of Paris, including the French Revolution which took place in the middle of the cemetery relocation. If a grave of a famous person in French history is unknown, chances are their bones are down there -- equal if not in life then in death.
The volume, the vastness of the ossuary is astounding. You really have to go there to see the magnitude. There are more people buried under Paris than there are living above.
Writing adapted from Lenore, my awesome sister who continues to teach me how to travel with kids!