Story and photos by Jennifer Schlueter
If you like to do rather unusual things while traveling and you’re fascinated by history and death (it’s ok if you don’t want to admit that you are just yet) – and by death I mean dead humans, skulls, bones, everything – there are two places in Paris which you should go see: the Catacombs of Paris and the Père Lachaise cemetery, which hosts a few international celebrities.
The Catacombs date back to 18th century, when cemeteries didn’t have enough capacity for all the dead people. So, SIX MILLION of them were buried in these underground ossuaries, the bones are stacked as high as I am tall, and skulls have been rearranged to crosses and other things. You can take pictures but you are not allowed to touch (have some respect!). Since the end of the 19th century, the catacombs attract tourists.
Check their website for opening hours, guided tours, exhibits and prices. A self-guided walk takes about 45 minutes to an hour and the closest Metro station is Denfert-Rochereau, which is just across the street.
Père Lachaise has to be the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen, especially in the fall when the leaves make it colorful. The site was bought by Napoleon in 1804 and established as a cemetery in the same year. Today, Père Lachaise still accepts new graves; however, there’s a waiting list (it’s not like dead people care to wait anymore, right?).
You can visit the graves of Jim Morrison, Honoré de Balzac, and Oscar Wilde (every English major’s dream – at least it was mine), for example. If you don’t mind putting your lips on places lots of others have placed theirs before, apply some lipstick and plant a kiss on the glass which surrounds Mr. Wilde’s grave. I do love Oscar’s works but not that much… Anyway, I digress. Make sure to get a map because it is possible to get lost!
You can reach it via the Metro stations Philippe Auguste and Père Lachaise. The cemetery is so big that you can spend a whole afternoon there.
A big thanks to the Catacombs of Paris for supporting me on my visit to Paris. As always, all opinions are my own.