You may think that the only difference between the Paris Catacombs and Rome Catacombs is where they are located, but it goes much further than that. Read all about what makes each unique and super interesting to visit on your next trip to Paris or Rome!
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The Paris Catacombs
Known as the ‘World’s Largest Grave’, the late 17th century underground tunnels were put into use when all of Paris’ cemeteries started to overflow and get overcrowded. What were once mines stretching for miles underneath Paris, now holds an estimated six million dead bodies throughout its tunnels.
The Paris Catacombs are just south of the “Barrière d’Enfer” (A.K.A – Gates of Hell) and after descending into the tunnels you will experience the eerie-ness and mystery that is the Paris Catacombs.
The Rome Catacombs
The Rome Catacombs are cemeteries originating in the 2nd Century BCE. Since Christianity was illegal at this time, many early Christians were martyred close to these sites and their graves remain there today.
There was the belief among Christians at the time, that when the second coming arrived, the closer they were to the saints, the quicker they would go to heaven, so it was very popular to be buried as close as possible to the tombs of known saints at the time.
Paris Catacombs Tours
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Join one of our tours and you will not be let down! Admissions are always included and we always skip the lines for admissions.
How are They Different?
Age: 1500 Years Apart
Bodies began to be moved from graveyards like Les Innocents to the Ossuary that is the Paris Catacombs in 1786 which is the late 18th century. Christians began burying their dead in the Roman Catacombs as early as the 2nd century AD. 1500 years separates the two burial grounds.
That said, the tunnel system for the Paris Catacombs is said to have been dug as early as the 15th century which closed the gap by a few hundred years. That said, if the Roman empire started with Romulus the day the Roman Catacombs closed, it would have risen and fell before the Paris Catacombs opened. This is most definitely not the case, but hopefully gives you a great understanding of how much time divides these two burial grounds.
The Paris Catacombs is home to an estimated 7 million skeletons and they are very visible today. In Rome, you may see a skeleton under glass but most of the tombs had been cleared out a long time ago. There are so many bodies in Paris that they decided to organize them in an artistic fashion to conserve space and beautify the space. It worked! The Paris Catacombs have a line around the block daily.
The Rome Catacombs also includes the Domitilla Catacombs, which are an elaborate maze of underground tunnels stretching for miles just 15 minutes outside of Rome. Similar to the Paris Catacombs, The Domitilla Catacombs were constructed because there was also a shortage in burial space in Rome. Although, the Domitilla Catacombs only hold about 150,000 remains and bodies.
Both sites are sacred burial grounds but the Paris Catacombs feels less sacred. The Rome Catacombs are religious sites run by priest and persons of the religious order. If you plan to visit, both men and women must be wearing clothing that covers their knees and shoulders out of respect. The Paris catacombs are really cool and but appear disconnected from religion.
How are they Similiar?
Age of the Dead
While the Paris Catacombs were not dug out until the 18th century, some of the bodies moved into the ossuary would have died in the 6th century AD according to the Smithsonian. Most of the Roman Catacombs stopped being used around the 5th centuries AD. That means some of the people buried in each area could have lived within a century of each other.
Both catacombs were dug largely for hygiene reasons. Rotting bodies in the middle of a city is not ideal – especially when they start piling up like in Paris. Both catacombs were created to avoid disease but in Rome they thought ahead. They built the catacombs since the laws in Rome prohibited the burial of bodies within the city limits to avoid plague. Pagans often burnt their dead for this reason combine with ritualistic reasons. In Paris, they created the catacombs because disease was already a problem.
The Paris Catacombs were simply suggested because the cemeteries in Paris at the time were overflowing. Since death is inevitable, authorities needed to find a place to bury those who were passing and needing to find it fast.
The Paris Catacombs and the Roman Catacombs are both home to significant works of art. Most Roman Catacombs have some of the best preserved frescoes you can ever see. This is because they were sealed airtight for a thousand + years.
While the Domitilla Catacomb has the second-century fresco ‘The Last Supper’ living in it; the labyrinths of the Paris Catacombs are actually covered with graffiti and the infamous artists are known as, ‘The Underground Art Rebels’. However, both underground graves are adorned with bones, inscriptions, artworks, artifacts and beautiful architecture that pay homage to those who are buried in these underground vessels.
Persons of Interest
Both the Paris Catacombs and the Roman Catacombs became homes to persons of significant interest. It would be very difficult to bury 7 million people without including a few people of significance. Among those who were moved into the Paris catacombs are Jean-Paul Marat and Maximilien de Robespierre. It took 12 years to move all of the bodies and bones to their final resting place.
In Rome you will find saints like Sebastian and many of the oldest Popes. Most of these bodies have been removed from the Rome Catacombs and moved to areas they can be better preserved.
When in Paris or Rome you should definitely consider visiting either site as they will leave you with long-lasting memories.
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