The Hidden World of Underground Paris

Written by EJ Ray

May 31, 2024
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They Paris is always a good idea, and we agree. But beyond the charming streets and quaint cafés, there is a hidden world of underground Paris. Read on for our favorite underground Paris attractions. 

The streets of Paris are alive. Cafe culture and the throb of traffic give it a life of its own. Yet the city has a whole world just a few feet below the surface. Often hidden away, it has just as many secrets and stories to tell as the world above. Read on for our favorite picks in the hidden world of underground Paris.

Paris

You can enjoy meandering the streets of Paris, but do check out the underground Paris sites.

Catacombs of Paris

The Catacombs of Paris are straight out of a horror film—over 200 miles of labyrinthine passageways network beneath the capital. Vast cave-like structures are littered with the bones of the city’s dead. Most of them are closed off to the public, as they have been unmapped and are far too easy to get lost in. Yet some remain untouched and are a magnet for thrill seekers and explorers.

a pile of skulls and bones in the Paris underground catacombs

Skulls in the Catacombs of Paris, France. Photo by Clinton Harris via iStock by Getty Images

You can get a tour of the Paris catacombs, and it is highly advisable. Plenty of myths and legends surround them, one of which includes a video discovered in the nineties. Explorers found a camera lying on the floor in an unchartered tunnel. When they watched the video on it, it featured a man exploring. Once he heard eerie noises, he dropped the camera and ran into the darkness. Nobody knows if he ever got out. Don’t be that man; instead, get a professional guide to take you down there.  You can find great tours at https://www.hellotickets.com, which will keep you safe and entertained while you’re down there.

Tunnels have existed in the area since Roman times. They were then extended as the city developed, mainly to bring up stone for building work. Yet as the city rapidly expanded, so did its deceased. Cemeteries in the city piled up, spreading disease and decay. The local police force took it upon themselves to remove the cadavers in secret, placing them in the underground tunnels and giving them the ghosty occupants they have today.

Many stories about the underground have become folklore. They were used by the French resistance during the Second World War. At one point, police training in the tunnels discovered a complete cinema with a fully stocked bar and restaurant attached. Illustrious thieves even used it to break into a wine cellar, claiming nearly 250,000€ worth of alcohol.

The Paris Metro

Fulgence Bienvenüe, a civil engineer who worked in the city, was the brains behind the Paris Metro. Construction began in 1898, with the first line opening in 1900. Since then, it has expanded, with several other lines added by the 1930s. Today, it has a huge 16 lines and even contains futuristic, high-tech driverless trains in some places.

Travellers and commuters waiting at subway station Mairie de Montrouge

Station Mairie de Montrouge in Paris, France, is part of the Paris Metro system. Photo by Meinzahn via iStock by Getty Images

While renowned for its grade and splendor, the Metro holds several secrets. Many of these come from its ghost stations: Former stops and platforms no longer in use. They are often left in the condition they were when first closed up, providing a subterranean snapshot of a bygone era.

Croix-Rouge

One of the most famous of these ghost stops is Croix-Rouge. Between 1923 and 1939, the station was the final stop on line number 10. The line was extended, which left the Croix-Rouge stop defunct. With most passengers disembarking at the station before or after, it soon became obsolete and closed to the public. As one of the easiest ghost stations to access, it is now used as a place for graffiti art, some of the pictures being over 30 years old. It is a fantastic place for a moody urban Instagram shot.

1080px-Paris,_RATP_station___Croix_Rouge___installation___X_,_lenfer_de_la_BnF___par_L._Ungerer_C-Album_nuit_du_15_déc._2007_(4878884235)

Croix-Rouge abandoned Paris Metro station. By (vincent desjardins) from Paris, France – Paris, RATP/ station ” Croix Rouge ” installation ” X , l’enfer de la BnF ” par L. Ungerer / C-Album nuit du 15 déc. 2007.

Saint-Martin

Saint-Martin is a collection of two stations—Saint-Martin 1 and 2. The first is a cross-platform interchange between two stations divided by a wall. When you move between them, the pedestrian crossing is separated by a fence that prevents you from gaining access. This station was used from 1931 until the outbreak of the war. Like Croix-Rouge, passengers began to use other stops, making Saint-Martin obsolete.

The second is attached to the first by a small connecting tunnel. In 1990, the city’s homeless used this tunnel as shelter. It was then given to the Salvation Army to help those in need. In certain areas, advertising boards from the 1930s are still visible.

Saint-Martin is the largest abandoned stop on the Paris Metro line.

Saint-Martin is the largest abandoned stop on the Paris Metro line. By jd, won work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Crypt of St Joseph des Carmes

If the bones of those who died naturally have still not quenched your thirst for the macabre, then visit the crypt below St Joseph des Carmes. This crypt houses the bones of people who were slaughtered during the French Revolution. Known as the Martyrs of September, they included numerous priests and bishops.

The group was rounded up and told to swear an oath undermining the pope’s authority. Refusing, the archbishop was then bludgeoned and stabbed to death. The others were tried in a makeshift court while under torture. Instead of being executed, they were given to the baying crowds who did it for them. In total, 190 people were killed, and their bodies still reside in the crypt, many with visible damage and marks to their bones.

The Crypt of the Martyrs

The Crypt of the Martyrs sits beneath St. Joseph des Carmes. Photo by Parisette, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Paris Sewers

Lost jewels, a dungeon, and the body of an orangutan were all objects found in the Paris sewer system when it was mapped in 1812. In truth, no one knew what was down there. It was a disgusting place, and the police refused to set foot in it.

The modern system was designed in 1850 and comprises over 300 miles of tunnel. Luckily, you don’t have to go down there to see how it has developed. Paris has its own museum dedicated to the sewer system, with artifacts and exhibits on its evolution and what went down there. You can buy tickets and combine them with your tour of the Paris Catacombs from https://www.hellotickets.com and make a whole day out or go underground.

Make some time to visit Paris’s depths. Their development mirrors that on the surface, often showing how it evolved and changed. Book in advance, and stay safe. You never know what you may find when you explore the hidden world of underground Paris. We invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more of our favorite things when visiting Paris.

Written by EJ Ray

EJ Ray is a traveler at heart. It is part of her soul and she loves to share her travels through her words. She has traveled the world, seeking great food, wine, and experiences. EJ was born in the Eastern US but has lived across the country and in Europe and Mexico. She also took to the road for a while, exploring from her RV. EJ always seeks the next great sip, bite, and adventure.

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