As Paris grew into a major European hub and started to house more and more people during the 1600s, by the 1700s it faced a major issue. Enough people had lived and then passed away in Paris that its cemeteries were now over flowing with bodies and there was no place to bury them anymore. It was so crowded that graves were overstuffed with more and more corpses until they were uncovered and no more could be buried within them. So the solution that came about was to place these corpses into the tunnels that ran beneath the city of Paris. These tunnels existed since the 13th century and were a part of Paris’s heritage. These were used in the 13th century to mine limestone which turned Paris into the thriving city it was. As these burials began to take place, around 6 million Parisians were buried in the catacombs of Paris which lay beneath the bustling and busy city.
The people that lived in Paris’s oldest neighborhood called Les Innocents, which housed the city’s largest and oldest cemetery, were one of the first people to complain about the unpleasant and rotten smell which came from the cemetery. They claimed that even the strongest perfumes could not help get rid of the smell which arose from rotting flesh in the cemetery. In 1763, the King at the time tried to ban all burials from happening within the capital, however, because of the church’s power, he was afraid to manage the cemeteries until once, due to heavy rain, the cemetery overflowed all the bodies onto a nearby property.
This is when cemeteries began to be emptied and all the remains and bones were taken down to the tunnel to be buried to reduce the smell and bodies from the capital. The first place to be cleared was Les Innocents which was the most overflowing cemetery at the time. It took the city around 12 years to move the bones from the cemeteries to the catacombs and around 6-7 million bodies were then moved from the capitals over crowded cemetery into the tunnels beneath.
However, during the French revolution instead of again overcrowding and over flowing the cemeteries, the French people started burying the dead within the catacombs. There are many famous people from history who are buried within the catacombs such as Jean Paul Marat who was the French revolution’s most radical voice. By the 1860s, the city stopped moving bones to catacombs and the tunnels were then sealed off.
Today, the catacombs are open for tourists to visit and explore the history of Paris and the deep meaning behind it. It takes around 45-minutes to walk through the catacombs and guides are present who give a little more insight into the history of the tunnels and Paris. There are many more tunnels for miles ahead, however, it is banned by the government of France to enter there and deemed illegal by them.