Beneath our feet rest places of wonder, where death meets art in hauntingly beautiful decay and decadence. Around the world and throughout history, people have created subterranean palaces for the dead and while the reasons for their existence vary, one thing’s for sure: They all radiate a strange and arcane beauty which makes them apt for exploration.
If the idea of descending into darkness does it for you, here are 10 of the world’s creepiest crypts and catacombs that are as fascinating as they are haunting.
1. Paris Catacombs
The Paris catacombs were built in the late 18th century by the Romans who were experiencing overcrowding in their cemeteries. With growing concern to public health, the bodies of a reported six to seven million individuals were moved to their new resting place. Today, visitors can explore part of the catacombs that include bones arranged in artful configurations. Although most of the tunnels remain off limits, many people bend the rules and continue onward. Police actually found an underground cinema located in one of the tunnels in 2004.
2. Palermo Capuchin Catacombs
The Capuchin church in Palermo, Sicily was experiencing overcrowding in their cemeteries during the 16th century. The monks of the church decided that to combat overcrowding, they would embalm their bodies and display them in the catacombs. Originally, only the chosen few were allowed to be laid to rest in this area, but overtime local influencers requested to be put in these catacombs as well. Around 12,000 people have been embalmed and put on display in the catacombs, with new residents entering as late as the 1920s.
3. Brno Ossuary
Brno, Czech Republic is home to the second largest ossuary in all of Europe (the biggest being the Paris catacombs). It was discovered accidentally in 2001 during a dig for a construction project. Around 50,000 remains were found in the underground catacomb. In 2012 the site was opened to the public and remains a tourist destination.
4. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is an iconic building of the Roman Catholic church. Many people visit every year, though most do not venture into the catacombs below. The remains of 11,000 people reside there, most coming from the era of the bubonic plague of the 1730s. Cemeteries across the city were emptied around this time to prevent the further spread of the disease. Most of the bones are organized, though there are some sections with piles of bones and others containing the organs of important royals.
5. Sedlec Ossuary
The Czech Republic is home to yet another massive burial site in the Sedlec Ossuary. The building itself is a modest chapel, though an estimated 40,000-70,000 bodies are buried within. The organization of the bodies is impressive, with arrangements including a chandelier made of bones. They were created in the 19th century by a woodcarver hired to arrange the bones in an interesting manner.
6. Hallstatt Bone House
The Bone House in Hallstatt, Austria certainly lives up to its name, as it is home to 1,200 skulls. The tomb was developed in the 12th century for the common reason of graveyard overcrowding. Since religion forbade cremation, the bodies were buried for 15 years, then dug up and placed in the catacomb. The skulls were also painted with interesting and beautiful artwork, which can be compared to today’s modern practice of placing flowers on a grave.
7. Rabat Catacombs
Beneath the former Roman city of Melite in Rabat, Malta are long and immense catacombs dating back to the 4th century AD. What is strange about these tombs is that Pagans, Jews and Christians all shared the burial site with no apparent divisions between the groups. There are mysterious inscriptions on the walls and on some ceremonial tables, which archaeologists are still working to decode.
8. Skull Chapel
The Skull Chapel can be found in Czerma, Poland and holds the remains of an estimated 25,000 individuals. The chapel was built by a priest in 1776 and houses bodies from the Thirty Years War, cholera outbreaks and other wars during this time period. The walls are covered with bones in an artistic manner, with the remains of the builders of the chapel lying on the altar.
9. Skull Tower
There are a lot of skull references in these catacombs–I guess it makes sense. The Skull Tower is found in Serbia and was built with the remains of Serbian fighters who died fighting the Ottoman Empire in 1809. The tower was erected as a reminder to those who would oppose the Ottoman Empire and was fixed in place until southern Serbia was liberated in 1878. A chapel was subsequentially built around the tower, and around 58 of the 952 skulls collected are still visible.
10. Capela dos Ossos
Capela dos Ossos translates to Chapel of Bones, and it can be found in Évora, Portugal. The name fits the chapel, as the entire interior is covered in skeletal remains. It was built by a Franciscan Monk in the 1500s who wanted his fellow monks to contemplate life and death as they meditated. The remains were brought in from multiple churches, and estimation put the body count at around 5,000.