Empire of the Dead

On our last day in Paris, we descended below ground to the Empire of the Dead, surrounded by the bones of those long gone.

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Inscription above the doorway into the underground ossuary

Below the streets of Paris lay many kilometres of underground passages that were cut to quarry the limestone rock for building materials. Now known as the Catacombs, they were converted into a huge ossuary in the 18th century, to house about six million skeletons that were being moved from ground-level cemeteries across Paris.

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A section of Les Catacombs is now a popular tourist attraction. The catacombs are accessed by descending 130 steps to the cool passages below ground. There is then a walk of 1.5km, through the ossuary, that takes about 45 minutes to complete, before ascending 83 steps at the other end to re-emerge at street level. The following two signs provide additional information.

The standard admission price at the gate is €13, but there is a long line waiting to get in that is reported to take between 3-5 hours on busy days. This is because the number of visitors is strictly regulated so that there are only 200 persons underground at any period. We bought ‘skip-the-line’ tickets in advance from Get Your Guide for €30 each. This meant that we could walk to the front of the queue and be treated like VIPs. The advance tickets included an audio guide that explains features of the Catacombs along the way.

The bones from six million skeletons is certainly an unusual sight, and the combination of printed signs and the audio tour provide interesting historical context. I’m not sure that the 45 minute experience is worth €30, considering that you can spend a whole day in the Louvre for €15. But, having said that, if it is deemed to be worth the normal price of €13, then buying the advance €30 tickets will save 3-5 hours of your vacation time that you won’t get back standing in line.

After the Catacombs, we headed across town to see the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t pay to go in, or up. We just took some photos from ground level.

We walked along the Seine and up the Champs Elyseees where we enjoyed a light snack and a drink, took photos of the Arc du Triomphe, and then headed back towards the apartment. Our last day in Paris was complete. Next stop – Hamburg, Germany.

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