While nothing can really match the cold weather in Berlin, Paris was starting to catch up as the single digit temperature approached negative territory. And so I thought, maybe it was time to match the gloomy weather with something as morbid and depressing. Why not try something different but still touristy to some extent? That’s when Les Catacombes de Paris caught my attention. A collection of skulls and bones deep down under, because why not?
I would have preferred to go in the evening, except that the catacombs are only open until 4 PM, which made me decide to go right after lunch. First things first, how long is it going to take to see everything down there? Various guides will tell you that around 45 minutes should be enough, and I think that's just about right. Unless you're really fascinated with skulls, I don’t think you’ll need more than an hour down there. Or maybe you’ll get lost? How fun would that be!
Unfortunately, there is no getting lost down there. The place was built to resemble a maze enclosed by walls of skulls and bones on both sides, but the paths are clear. In the few times that they diverge, one path is sure to loop back to the main circuit. Most of the gates at these intersections are locked, which limits the movement of the adventurous. And now the question, just how creepy is it down there? Well, not as horrifying as you think it could be.
Let me take this chance to inform you that the place also serves as some sort of history lesson as far as the origin of France is concerned. While some visitors focus on the morbid, some will appreciate the historic. You will see road names down there, which I believe to be legit streets that served as the city’s main thoroughfares hundreds of years ago. It doesn’t end there. Archaeologists will surely be awestruck with the rock formations that serve as silent witnesses to Paris’ interesting past.
But let’s go back to bones and skulls. Like I mentioned in the video, this is so Alexander McQueen. All the human remains you will find down there were collected from various cemeteries and churches dating back to the 1800’s. Given their age, the bones are in delicate condition, so fragile that visual warnings forbidding you to touch them are all over the place. But come to think of it, who in his right mind would touch them anyway? The mere thought that they were once alive and kicking is already creepy enough, right?
The place is also littered with quotes, mostly in Latin with French translations. You’ll also see some occasional Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian on the walls. If you detest skulls but find Romance languages appealing, then there’s something for you to look forward to. Seeing all those Latin quotes and having to rely too much on the French versions made me feel so inadequate. Perhaps I'm failing my Latin exam next week after all. Hooray, me!
The scenario becomes rather repetitive after a while. The setup is the same: a wall of humerus and femur bones with skulls on top. And since these human remains don’t really fancy wearing layers for winter, the sea of beige does not really offer any more variety after the first half an hour or so. What changes is the year to which the collection of bones belong, as well as where they are from. Other than that, it’s just the same thing over and over again, which means you have to entertain yourself somehow.
Maybe you can wear one of those skeleton costumes they sell for Halloween, then start scaring people, although I think this would not sit well with the security personnel guarding the place. You can also try scaring yourself. As I rounded one corner, I saw a locked gate in front of me which caused me to panic until I saw that there was another path to the left. I mean, this would've been a legit escape room experience, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it alone, now would I?
After 45 minutes or so, you will surface one Metro station away from where you originally were. The sudden confusion adds to the thrill, but immediately wears off after you find the main road where the Metro stations are. There is a souvenir shop right across the exit if you want to bring home proof that you survived the experience. Otherwise, just head back home or have a snack at one of the bars or restaurants within the vicinity.