By the 17th century, Paris had started to grow into a major European city, but by the time that had happened, many people had passed away, causing overflow in the graveyards of the cities. These cemeteries were overstuffed with corpses, sometimes leaving the bodies exposed.
The residents of Les Halles, which was near Les Innocents (the city’s oldest and largest cemetery), were some of the first to report that the cemetery was exuding a strong smell of decomposing flesh.
In April, 1786 King Louis XVI, Louis XV’s successor, had the Tombe-Issoire quarries blessed and
consecrated so that the bodies from the overflowing cemeteries could be moved to the tunnels. The move from the cemeteries five stories underground into Paris’ former quarries started with the Les Innocents cemetery. In 1787, transfers from other Paris cemeteries began. It took about 12 years to move all the bones into the catacombs with the bodies totaling about six to seven million.
During the French Revolution, the bodies of the dead were taken directly to the Catacombs and buried there. Some famous characters from the history of the French Revolution were buried in the Catacombs as well. Some of these people include Jean-Paul Marat, one of the Revolution’s most radical voices, and Maximilien de Robespierre, an influential figure during both the Revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror. The city stopped moving bones into the ossuaries in 1860 after 1859 when the final transfer of bones took place during the urban regeneration work.
A vast majority of the entrances that lead down into the Catacombs have been discovered, and some of the entrances have been filled with concrete to stop people from going in illegally. There are other entrances known but not sealed to the public; the people who go down illegally to do more exploring or to party use those entrances. There is a main entrance that the tours use to take people down. The tour takes you down 20 meters, or about 5 stories, covers 2 kilometers and takes about 45 minutes, and the constant temperate is 40 degrees Celsius.
The bones for multiple graveyards and churches in Paris were moved to the Catacombs. Therefore, the Catacombs undoubtedly include the remains of many famous people that had been moved from other cemeteries. The earliest known body is of a famous writer, François Rabelais (between 1483 and 1494 -1553). There is no public list of the range of dates that are buried in the catacombs so to figure out the range of dates, I would start at one end of the ossuary and go to the other (in a straight line) taking samples every mile to calculate what the dates are and taking note if there are patterns.