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!
Pro Tip: Planning to visit the Catacombs? If you find this information useful, bookmark it in your browser so you can easily find it when you need it. Check out our guide to the Paris Catacombs for more planning resources, our top Paris tours or Rome tours for a memorable trip, and bone-chilling legends of the Paris Catacombs.
The Paris Catacombs
The Paris Catacombs are known as the world’s largest gravesite. The underground tunnels were put to use in the late 17th century when all of Paris’ cemeteries became overcrowded. What once was a series of 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 (aka the Gates of Hell). After descending into the tunnels, you’ll experience the eerieness and mystery that is the Paris Catacombs. Paranormal activity is a given here.
Keep reading to find out the differences between the Rome and Paris Catacombs!
Great Paris Tours
We are a tour company, so we recommend doing a tour, of course. We started this business for two reasons. First, we love history and learning about our world and culture. Second, we wanted to rid the world of boring tours.
We believe art is much more than just oil on canvas. It’s about the life of the artists and how they were affected by the dramatic changes of their time period. Join one of our tours and you won’t be let down! Admissions are always included, we always skip the lines for admissions. Plus you’re guaranteed to hear interesting stories and history you won’t learn by visiting on your own.
Not ready to book a tour? Check out our helpful Paris Guide for more resources.
The Rome Catacombs
The Rome Catacombs are cemeteries originating in the second century B.C. Since Christianity was illegal at the time, many early Christians were martyred close to these sites and their graves remain there today.
There was a 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. For this reason, it was very popular to be buried as close as possible to the tombs of known saints at the time. If you’re planning to visit, check out how to see the Rome Catacombs at night for an extra spooky experience.
Rome Catacombs Tours
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How Are The Paris and Rome Catacombs Different?
Age: 1500 Years Apart
Bodies started to be moved from graveyards like Les Innocents to the Paris Catacombs ossuary in 1786, which is the late 18th century. Christians began burying their dead in the Roman Catacombs as early as the second century A.D. So, 1,500 years separate 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. This closed the gap by a few hundred years. If the Roman Empire started with Romulus the day the Roman Catacombs closed, it would have risen and fallen before the Paris Catacombs opened. This is most definitely not the case, but hopefully gives you a greater understanding of how much time divides these two burial grounds.
The Paris Catacombs are 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 were cleared out a long time ago. There are so many bodies in Paris that they decided to organize them in an artistic way to conserve space and beautify it. It worked! The Paris Catacombs have a line of visitors around the block daily.
The Rome Catacombs also include the Domitilla Catacombs, which are an elaborate maze of underground tunnels. They stretch for miles and are located just 15 minutes outside of Rome. Similar to the Paris Catacombs, the Domitilla Catacombs were constructed due to a shortage of burial space in Rome. However, the Domitilla Catacombs only hold about 150,000 remains and bodies.
Both sites are sacred burial grounds but the Paris Catacombs feel less sacred. The Rome Catacombs are religious sites run by priests and persons of the religious order. If you plan to visit, both men and women must wear clothing that covers their knees and shoulders out of respect. The Paris Catacombs are really cool 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 sixth century A.D. according to the Smithsonian. Most of the Roman Catacombs stopped being used around the fifth century A.D. 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 as they did 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 the plague. Pagans often burnt their dead for this reason combined with ritualistic reasons. In Paris, they created the catacombs because disease was already a problem.
The Paris Catacombs were suggested because the cemeteries in Paris were overflowing at the time. Since death is inevitable, authorities needed to find a place to bury the dead and needed to find it fast.
The Paris Catacombs and the Roman Catacombs are both home to significant works of art. Most of the Roman Catacombs have some of the best-preserved frescoes you can ever see. This is because they were sealed airtight for a thousand years or more.
While the Domitilla Catacomb has the second-century fresco “The Last Supper” 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.
People 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 important people.
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’ll 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 where 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.