French Language Blog

Les catacombes de Paris Posted by on May 7, 2021 in Culture, Vocabulary


I am sure you have heard of the morbid catacombes de Paris, but do you know why it was built in the first place? Continuez à lire pour savoir de plus! Read on to find out more!

Photo from Pixabay, CCO.

L’ossuaire municipal situated in the 14ieme arrondissement holds the remains of an estimated 6 million people and were built in the late 18th century in response to the overcrowding of the city’s cemeteries. The urgency really became apparent after a part of a wall of Le Cimetière des Saints-Innocents, the largest and oldest cemetery located in the city, collapsed in 1774, sending bodies of medieval Parisians into the streets to the horreur of current residents. Not to mention that it was located near the market Les Halles, so it was less than an ideal emplacement1location.

After that, nightly wagons vidé2emptied the cemeteries of Paris and deposited the remains underground, along miles of passages souterrains3subterranean passages that were former carrières de Paris4quarries of Paris.

In 1793, the Val-de-Grâce hospital doorkeeper Philibert Aspairt wandered into the catacombs one night and got lost. Pourquoi? Personne sait5Why? Nobody knows.. He was found décédé6deceased 11 years later and entombed in the location where his body was found. Terrifiant!7Creepy!

During World War II, Parisian members of the French Resistance used the catacombs and the passages underneath Paris and planned and led insurrections towards the liberation of Paris. The Nazis also set up secret bunkers underneath Paris.

More recently, urban explorers known as cataphiles illegally enter and explore the 170 miles of subterranean passages that criss-cross the city, similarly to a rayon de miel8honeycomb (of which includes 1.1 miles of the ossuary). There is even a special subset of police who patrol the entrances to the mines to prevent people from accessing them, and they are known as ‘cataflics‘ (flic being a slang word in French for the police).

In 2004, police discovered a fully equipped movie theater in an area of the catacombs. A giant screen, alcohol, plush seats, and even a kitchen were discovered. When the police returned for a formal investigation, everything had been removed except for a note that read “ne cherchez pas” – do not search.

A few years ago I visited the catacombes for the first time, and I remember my battement de coeur9heartbeat quickening as I saw the sign at the entrance after climbing down the equivalent of a 5 story building:

« Arrête ! C’est ici l’empire de la mort. »

“Stop! This is the empire of the dead”

Photo taken and owned by me,

There are many plaques and memorials for the dead along the way, such as this:

Photo taken and owned by me.

«  Il est quelquefois plus avantageux de mourir que de vivre. » 

“Sometimes it is more advantageous to die than to live. “


To check out a cataphile as he plongée dans la ville interdite10dived into the forbidden citycheck out this video en français. 

le vocabulaire 

les catacombes – catacombs

une crypte – a crypt

un ossuaire – an ossuary

déplacer les ossements –  to move the bones

la profondeur – the depth

un cimetière – a cemetery

une carrière – a quarry

inquiétant – eerie

les endroits clos – tight spaces

l’obscurité – the dark

avoir peur de – to be afraid of

effrayer – to frighten

la mort – death

les corps – bodies

morbide – morbid


Avez-vous déjà visité les catacombes de Paris? Seriez-vous intéressés? Peut-être en tant que cataphile… attention aux flics!

Have you ever visited the catacombs of Paris? Would you be interested? Maybe as a cataphile… watch out for the cops! 

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    subterranean passages
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    quarries of Paris
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    Why? Nobody knows.
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    dived into the forbidden city
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About the Author: Bridgette

Just your average Irish-American Italo-Francophone. Client Engagement for Transparent Language.