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The Catacombs date back to the end of the 18th century, around 1788. They were built in the old Tombe-Issoire limestone quarries to move bones from Paris cemeteries that had fallen into ruin. The very first cemetery was Les Innocents, near the Les Halles neighborhood. The last cemetery was cleared in 1814. Stones from the quarries were used to build Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Louvre, and to fortify the city of Paris.
Before entering the winding tunnels, visitors are greeted by a quote: Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort ("Stop, here lies the Empire of Death"), perched above the doors that mark the beginning of a journey back through time. Visitors then walk down 130 steps, some 65 feet underground, to the dark tunnels decorated with bones from Paris cemeteries. On the walls, various phrases, poems and writings—some religious, others not—can be found among the bones, leaving visitors to reflect throughout mile-long tour.
The Paris Catacombs tour takes about 45 minutes. Prepare to climb another 83 steps to get out.