The bucket lists of avid travelers and occasional vacationers alike are filled with famous monuments, ancient temples and incredible natural wonders. Crypts and catacombs, on the other hand, are not as common a catalyst for travel.
While Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower will likely bring more people to Paris than its catacombs, this gallery proves it’s a worthy addition to your itinerary. In fact, the eight catacombs on this list, while grim, offer a fascinating glimpse into the past and a bold reminder that life is short so travel often.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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A good number of famous crypts are found throughout Europe, but the catacombs at the Monastery of San Francisco in Peru is one exception. Located in the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery contains thousands of bones. An estimated 25,000 people were buried there between the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Photo by Ray_LAC, CC BY 2.0
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Sedlec Ossuary near Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic holds an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 skeletons beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints. Many of the bones are arranged in decorative patterns, while others have been piled into large mounds. The chapel also features garland made of skulls and a large chandelier of bones in the nave. Kutna Hora and its nearby ossuary is one of 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Czech Republic and remains one of the country's most-visited destinations.
Photo by Todd Huffman, CC BY 2.0
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The 16th-century Capela do Ossos (Chapel of Bones) in Evora, Portugal features interior walls made of human bones. As if the skulls weren't morbid enough, parts of the ceiling is painted with grim messages reminding visitors of their pending demise. An estimated 5,000 skeletons are cemented within its walls. Several full skeletons, as well as two desiccated corpses are also on display.
Photo by Remon Rijper, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Considered the second largest ossuary in Europe, this 17th-century catacomb includes the bones of an estimated 50,000 skeletons. Brno Ossuary lies beneath part of the Church of St. James and is believed to hold the remains of many who died during the Thirty Years' War and various widespread epidemics like the plague and cholera, which is evident in the different discoloration of the bones. The crypt was discovered in 2001 and has been open to the public since 2012.
Photo by Monika Durickova, CC BY 2.0
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Beneath Rome's Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome lies the 6-room Capuchin Crypt, home to more than 3,500 skeletons belonging to the monastery's friars. Between the 1500s through the late 1800s the remains were placed on display in artful arrangements to serve as a reminder of one's mortality. Several of the rooms are named for the type of bones buried within them, including the crypt of skulls and crypt of pelvises.
Photo by John Mosbaugh, CC BY 2.0
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Located in the picturesque Austrian town of Hallstatt lies the Charnel House and its 1,200 skulls. Nearly half the skulls were painted with decorative symbols by the deceased's family members. Many of the oldest skeletal remains within the house were exhumed from a nearby cemetery in the 1700s, but the practice continued for centuries.
Photo by Mihnea Stanciu, CC BY 2.0
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Home to the remains of more than six million people, the Catacombs of Paris are rightfully dubbed the world's largest grave and it's easily one of the most famous ossuaries in the world. The catacombs are a small part of a much larger network of tunnels beneath Paris. People have been visiting them since the early 1800s to witness the artistic bone arrangements.
Photo by Ken and Nyetta, CC BY 2.0
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Like other crypts in Europe, Kaplica Czaszek (Skull Chapel) at St. Bartholomew's Church in Czermna, Poland holds the skeletal remains of many who died from epidemics like the plague and syphilis, as well as several wars. The chapel was inspired by Rome's Capuchin Crypt and was built in 1776, after which many bones were relocated to their final resting place within. In total, the bones of at least 21,000 people are thought to be housed there.
Photo by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, CC BY-ND 2.0