If you’re planning a trip to Europe, you’ve more than likely heard about all of the places you just HAVE to visit.
What you may not have heard about are all of the cool and even creepy catacombs to be found all over Europe.
Because of their macabre nature, it’s tough to find a catacombs map. Catacombs and crypts don’t exactly scream “vacation destination” for the more conventional traveler.
But if you’re a fan of the weird, wacky, offbeat and underground (literally) then the catacombs are right up your alley.
The cool thing about catacombs is that many of them are right beneath cities you may already have on your itinerary.
So we’ve mapped out where you can find those, as well as how to scope out the lesser known locations.
Back in the late 1700s, the cemeteries in Paris had reached their limit. It wasn’t long before public health concerns prompted officials to figure out what to do with the excess corpses which they couldn’t very well leave piled up around the city.
Fortunately, when the Romans built Paris, they’d created limestone quarries above which to build the city. So naturally, the officials decided underground quarries would be an ideal place to relocate the corpses that were wreaking havoc on the city.
Over time, the bones of six to seven million dead people were moved to those old quarries. And that is where they remain to this day.
In the mid 19th century, the Paris catacombs opened to the public. And while only roughly 200 feet of the tunnels is not off-limits to the public, this hasn’t stopped the more curious from exploring those prohibited sections.
Rather than take any chances, you’ll be better off going into the Paris catacombs with a local expert tour guide like The Paris Guy. Not only will you be able to skip the lines, but you’ll get the whole story behind this eerie underground scene that includes an underground spring, a sepulchral lamp, sculptures created by a quarryman, and other special exhibits.
St. Michan’s Church in Central Dublin is known as the location where Handel composed his Messiah on the upstairs organs. It’s also famous for having once hosted Bram Stoker.
In other circles though, its infamy is more connected with the crypts beneath it. That’s because the dry cool air in combination with the church’s limestone walls has led to the mummification of many of crypt’s bodies.
Of the many preserved corpses, there are four that generate special interest because each of their coffins has fallen away to expose them. Because nobody knows their identities, they’ve been given the nicknames, The Thief, The Nun, The Unknown, and The Crusader.
Here’s the real kicker. Visitors are permitted to touch the fingers of these corpses for good luck. (If you see touching corpse fingers as good luck.)
The Rome catacombs have been around longer than those in Paris.
Catacombs originated in the Middle East about 6,000 years ago. They then spread to Rome with Jewish migration. During this time, early Christians were persecuted and forced by Roman rules to bury their dead outside the city limits.
But land was expensive, so they decided to go underground. They proceeded to dig an estimated 375 miles of tunnels beneath Rome. Networks of rooms lined with rectangular niches were built first. Eventually, more complex tombs with larger niches and arches were created for families.
These were often decorated with religious frescos, statues, gold medallions, and other art. But it wasn’t just the dead in these catacombs. The living whom they left behind would congregate there to share funeral meals and mark death anniversaries. Much like a cemetery.
When barbarians invaded Rome in the early 5th century, the remains of the saints and martyrs in those catacombs were moved to churches around the city. The catacombs were all but forgotten until miners accidentally rediscovered one under the Via Salaria in 1578.
Of course, it wasn’t long before the tunnels were ransacked for relics. And the bodies had been removed long before that. Even so, it’s still fascinating to wander the over 40 catacombs in Rome with their ancient frescoes and winding passageways.
Although every culture has its own way to pay tribute to those who have passed, the Capuchin monks had a rather unorthodox view of death.
The catacombs beneath the Capuchin monastery in Palermo, Italy, certainly bears this out.
Since 1599, when a Capuchin monk died, the rest of the members of the order would quasi-mummify the deceased, then prop him up in a strange pose with the other deceased members.
It sounds creepy, right? The wealthier members of Palermo’s elite didn’t think so. They wanted in on the game. So for the next 300 years, these socialites were “laid to rest” in these catacombs sitting around tables or hanging on walls in their finest threads.
It’s definitely a haunting site. If you do go, be prepared to view Rosalia Lombardo, also known as Sleeping Beauty.”She died at the age of two in 1920 and continues to be eerily well-preserved in a glass coffin.
The walls of the Brno Ossuary in Brno, Czech Republic are actually made of bones. But these catacombs have a unique story.
Back in 2001, a pre-construction dig unearthed thousands of skeletal remains beneath the Church of St. Jacob in this ancient town.
But the bones were originally arranged in orderly stacks when they were placed there in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately, years of neglect, along with mud and water, had knocked down the stacks and left a messy pile.
So the town pulled together to clean and reorganize all the remains and create this amazing spectacle. Skulls, femurs, and other bones now fill walls, chambers, and pillars in a much more orderly fashion.
Another strange and eerie fact, the bones are multicolored. The reddish bones belonged to those who perished from the plague, while the yellowish ones were the result of cholera.
Europe is rich in history.
Visiting any or all of the locations on our catacombs map will certainly give you a unique perspective on this history.
And as you plan your trip, be sure to keep checking in with us to stay up to date on international news stories. Things can change quickly.