These are underground catacombs (ossuaries) are located south of the Place Denfert Rochereau, the former city gate (the ‘Barrière d'Enfer’), and hold the remains of about six million people in a section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of historical stone mines.
Quartier de la caserne © DAC - Christophe Fouin
The name of ‘Catacombs’ was given to this
ossuary in reference to those of Rome, a name originally given to an
ancient cemetery not far from the Appian Way. The Cemetery of the Innocents
(near Saint-Eustache, in the area of Les Halles) had been in use for nearly ten
centuries and had become a source of infection for the inhabitants of the
locality. After numerous complaints, the Council of State decided, on November
9th 1785, to prohibit further use of the Cemetery of the Innocents and to remove
its contents. These disused quarries were the destination for the human remains,
the transfer of which began in early April, 1786, and continued for two years,
always at nightfall. Thereafter, until 1814, the site received the remains from
all the cemeteries in Paris.
Galerie de sortie © DAC - Christophe Fouin
Since their creation, the ossuary has aroused curiosity. In 1787, the Count d’Artois, the future Charles X, made the descent, along with Ladies of the Court. The following year a visit from Madame de Polignac and Madame de Guiche is mentioned. In 1814, Francis I, the Emperor of Austria living victoriously in Paris, visited them. In 1860, Napoleon III went down with his son.