Afraid of the dark? Don’t like tight spaces? The idea of being surrounded by bones and corpses creep you out? Well then here is a list of places you may want to avoid! For centuries catacombs have been used to lay bodies to rest. Catacombs are by definition human-made subterranean passageways for religious practice. Although we tend to think of long passageways, technically, any chamber used as a burial place is a catacomb.
The word catacomb comes from the Latin ad catacumbas, meaning “at the hollows”, referring to chambers within Rome. Started by the Romans, Christians eventually took over the practice of create subterranean passageways with the idea that death was merely a period of sleep and the dead would rise again. Here is our list of famous catacombs around the world!
7. Green-Wood Cemetery, NY
Built in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery in New york City is a historic landmark. By the mid-1800s it was the second most visited landmark in America(second only to Niagara Falls!). It was famous for its architecture and its “occupants”. Famous residents include Rv. Henry Beecher, Leonard Bernstein and Henry Chadwick. Small compared to the Paris catacombs, Green-Wood’s subterranean vaults are impressive nonetheless.
What was once an open pit mine was transformed into a beautiful underground city of the dead in the 1800s. One of the reasons for its construction? It eliminated the possibility of being buried alive! Green-Woods hosts a once a year visitation of the catacombs.
6. Kom el Shoqafa Catacombs, Egypt
Kom el Shoqafa is named after the heaps of broken terra cotta jars found at the site. Pilgrims to this necropolis would often bring food and provisions with them but did not want to transport them back, breaking them before they left for home. el Shoqafa was discovered in 1900 after a donkey fell into one of its access shafts and it dates from the 2nd century BCE.
It is also considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Medeival World. There are human and animal remains within its walls and may have been the site of the mass burial of those massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla in 215 AD.
5. Catacombs of Rome
Rome is home to many catacombs. “Catacombs of Rome” is in fact a misnomer considering the number and varied locations of all the catacombs(at least 13 not counting Jewish catacombs). The catacombs in Rome are important for several reasons. Aside from the sheer number of remains, they contain priceless Christian relics, painting, sculptures and other artifacts. During the Roman era, only the rich could afford to buy land or space to be buried, thus the lower classes would be placed in these underground chambers.
Abandoned in the 10th century, it was not until the 1500s that some catacombs were rediscovered, with more discoveries made up until the 1950s. While many catacombs are open for visitation, many are closed due to danger and the presence of radon.
4. West Norwood Cemetery, London
A response to overcrowded Church cemeteries, West Norwood cemetery in London is a massive tract of land with an impressive catacomb system. Founded in 1837, the cemetery was home to many rich and famous and included a beautiful Church. Unfortunately the cemetery was bombed during World War II and the Church was torn down in 1960. Luckily the catacombs were untouched and are accessible today!
The catacombs sit abandoned today and as the picture above demonstrates, it is pretty creepy. The walls are stacked with crumbling coffins. Lucky for visitors that the coffins are lined with lead as many of the “inhabitants” died from smallpox and other deadly diseases.
3. Sedlec Ossuary, Prague
Not technically a catacomb, parts of this Ossuary are indeed underground…so it counts! The “Bone Church” in Prague was built in the 13th century by an abbot at the Sedlec Monastery. The abbot had returned from the Holy Land and sprinkled the grounds with Holy dirt, thus designating it as a holy and sought after graveyard.
The striking feature of this Ossuary, if you haven’t guessed already, are the massive, well-laid out monuments made from human remains. No one knows the real history behind the design however the myth is that a mad monk or a collection of blind monks took care to place the bones in geometric patterns. The “Bone Church” is open to tourists and is a must see!
2. Monastery of Saint Francis, Lima
The Monastery of Saint Francis, AKA, Convento de San Francisco, is a 18th century monastery, church, library and catacomb in Lima, Peru. The catacombs were only discovered in 1943 and contain the remains of thousands of people. Much like the “Bone Church” above, many of the remains have been placed in geometric patterns.
Upwards of 25,000 people are buried here and remained one of the only burial sites in Lima until the early 1800s. While not as expansive as some of the other catacombs on our list, the sheer number of remains and the way they have been positioned make for an incredible visit.
1. Paris Catacombs
It is probably of little surprise that Paris is the number one on our list. The catacombs of Paris are enormous! And the number of remains are unimaginable(six million people!). Known as “The World’s Longest Grave”, the catacombs have been a major tourist attraction since the 1800s. Formed in the 5th century, the majority of the catacomb system was built within old mines. It was not until the late 1700s, early 1800s that efforts were made to turn what were essentially bone pits into visitable and beautiful mausoleums.
Today parts of the catacombs have become an official museum and tours are offered. For those brave enough, there are hundreds of hidden passageways and entrances throughout Paris. Although one should beware as many have entered and never returned(we aren’t even joking).