L’empire de la Mort : Walking with the Dead in the Paris Catacombs


This season is typically associated with skeletons, ghosts, and messages from the dead. With Halloween creeping up right around the corner, I’m inspired to write about the humbling experience I had just a few weeks ago walking through the infamous Paris Catacombs: the final resting place of over six million Parisians whose remains were exhumed from the overflowing city’s cemeteries. My camera unfortunately died midway through so I wasn’t able to take as many photos, but I did get a bit of video footage which you can see here. Big thank you to my favorite travel partner for always being prepared with a camera 🙂

Some helpful hints if you plan on visiting:

  • Get there at least an hour before they open. We went on a Saturday, got there about 45 minutes before they opened and had to wait a little under an hour after they opened to get in.
  • Entrance fee is about 8 Euro.
  • Wear comfy shoes because you will do a lot of walking through damp floors and corridors, and climb down a long spiral flight of stairs.
  • Metro stop is Denfert-Rocherau. Once you get out of the metro, the entrance to the catacombs is across the street.
  • There is a Paul (coffee, tea, sandwiches) semi-close by and also small convenience stores so if you’re like me and can’t get up early to save your life let alone eat breakfast, there is something available for food to eat while you wait in line.
  • No bathrooms! So, make sure you can hold it for about an hour and a half to two hours.
Photo by Tim Trevaskis.
Photo by Tim Trevaskis.

My initial excitement at arriving to the entrance of the catacombs was followed by dizzying apprehension once we descended down the long spiral staircase. Claustrophobia was threatening to convince me to turn around as visions of possible scenarios of getting stranded with the deceased so deep below the city danced through my head. I don’t remember how I silently convinced myself to keep going despite the irrational (but possible! “Anything is possible,” said the door in Alice in Wonderland) fear of being buried alive but I’m glad I did. An odd sense of calm passed through me as we came upon the sign above the entrance to the the vast tunnels where the bones are kept which read : Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort, which means “Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”). The only words that I could mutter as we made our way down the winding corridors were, “There are so many.”

Autumn Aquarius Paris Catacombs

The indistinguishable skulls once belonging to real people that stared back at me, gently reminded me that death is a fate none of us will evade. Their remains rest there never to see the light of day again. They reminded me that I, on the other hand would emerge from the tunnels alive so I better make the most of the time I have.

Click here for our video of our catacomb adventure!

Photo by Tim Trevaskis
Photo by Tim Trevaskis

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Jamie is a writer with a passion for adventure, history, and more. When she’s not out exploring the world, Jamie is at home in sunny San Diego, CA chasing sunsets and carne asada fries, preoccupied with research, or invested in a good book and a cup of tea.

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