What Are Catacombs?

Quck answer

Catacombs are underground burial sites that were used by ancient civilizations to bury their dead. These burial sites are typically found in cities and are made up of a network of tunnels and chambers. Catacombs were often used as a solution to overcrowded cemeteries. They provided a space to bury multiple bodies in a compact and organized manner. Catacombs can be found in various parts of the world, with some of the most famous ones located in Rome, Paris, and Egypt. Today, these underground burial sites are often tourist attractions and provide valuable insights into ancient burial practices.


If you live in a bustling metropolis like New York City or Los Angeles, the concept of underground tunnels may not be so unfamiliar. These cities have extensive subway systems that transport people beneath the busy streets at all times of the day.

But what about deep, mysterious corridors that hold ancient secrets? If you reside in Rome, Paris, Odessa, New York City, London, Malta, or Alexandria, your city boasts a diverse array of these intricate passageways, known as catacombs.

The first catacombs were constructed in Rome during the 1st century. Back then, it was forbidden to bury bodies within the city walls, so catacombs were built as subterranean tombs by early Jewish and Christian communities.

Today, the most renowned catacombs can be found beneath the city of Paris. These tunnels, spanning over 185 miles, are remnants of the 13th century, when limestone was excavated from underground to shape Paris into the cultural hub it is today.

For a long time, these catacombs were left unused until the late 17th century, when they became a solution to a pressing public health issue. By 1780, Parisian cemeteries were overwhelmed with corpses, causing foul odors to waft through local neighborhoods and creating ideal conditions for the spread of disease.

Starting in 1786, cemeteries were gradually emptied as remains were transferred into the underground tunnels. Ossuaries were created to store the bones of more than six million Parisians who had previously been buried in the city’s cemeteries.

The catacombs of Paris served a purpose beyond being an underground burial site. During World War II, both French Resistance fighters and German soldiers utilized the underground tunnels.

Presently, visitors to Paris have the opportunity to take guided tours of over a mile of the catacombs. However, the majority of the catacombs remain off-limits and exploring them is illegal.

If you think the catacombs of Paris are an enormous maze, you will be astounded by the network of tunnels beneath Odessa, Ukraine. Considered the world’s longest catacomb system, the tunnels under Odessa stretch for nearly 1,500 miles!

Similar to the catacombs of Paris, the Odessa catacombs were carved out in the 1830s during limestone mining. They were also used during World War II and can now be visited by the public as part of a museum.

Try It Out

Are you ready to explore some catacombs? Make sure to check out the following activities with a friend or family member:

If you love to travel and are interested in catacombs, make sure to explore these 7 fascinating and beautiful catacombs around the world. If you could only choose one city with catacombs to visit, which one would it be and why?

Do you think you would enjoy playing hide and seek in the catacombs of Odessa? Well, think again! Once you see the inside of these catacombs, you will quickly realize how easy it is to get lost, and perhaps never find your way out! You can check out Odessa’s mind-bending catacomb maps online to get a glimpse of the catacombs and see just how extensive they are.

Don’t have the time or means to travel to the other side of the world? No problem! You can take a virtual tour of the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, thanks to Google Maps. What do you find most intriguing about catacombs and why?

If you are interested in learning more about catacombs, here are some sources you can check out: Smithsonian Magazine’s article on the Paris Catacombs, BBC’s exploration of the history of catacombs, and Atlas Obscura’s information on the Odessa Catacombs.

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