Where is the World’s Largest Catacomb?
If you’re a person who seeks adventure beneath life’s surface, perhaps diving into a catacomb is your next quest. Catacombs across the world range in age, initial purpose, and size. To experience the vastest of all underground passageways, you’ll need to answer the question where is the world’s largest catacomb?
We’ll help you find that out, along with other notable catacombs to put on your list.
What Are Catacombs?
To begin, we should go over the basics.
Catacombs are underground, man-made passages.
Their creation dates back centuries, some created in the 1st century. Many of them were created by mining earth material to build the city above, such as limestone and volcanic rock.
Over time, these spaces have been utilized as ossuaries, or burial sites, due to the health concerns posed by burying the dead amongst the living.
In some cultures, you had to be a person of status to have the opportunity for your bones to be kept safe here. In others, the catacombs are full of the remains of a diverse range of people.
These maze-like tunnels also offered a place of refuge during wartime, as well as for traders and smugglers.
Today, catacombs are a place of exciting exploration for travelers and tourists. Many of them only have sections opened to the public and you can only go with a guide, otherwise, you may get lost forever.
This is especially true in the largest catacomb in the world in Odesa, Ukraine.
Where Is the World’s Largest Catacomb?
In Odesa, Ukraine, the world’s largest catacombs stretch on for more than 1,500 miles (nearly 2,500 kilometers). That’s over 7 million feet.
It’s not a straight shot, either. Looking at a map of Odessa’s catacombs, the layout looks similar to grid-like systems in a city.
The paths turn and twist on one another through limestone basements, natural caves, and drainage systems.
It’s difficult to know when these catacombs were excavated, although many sources think it was at least before the 17th century.
Odessa’s catacombs are hundreds of miles bigger than others around the world, but they’re unique in another way.
They weren’t and aren’t used as burial sites. Not intentionally, at least.
People go missing in these labyrinth-like catacombs, making it an unintentional burial site. There’s a popular myth surrounding a girl named Masha who went missing on New Year’s Eve while partying in 2005.
According to research, it seems to be merely a tale.
Still, people have gone missing and it’s to no surprise, once you look at a map.
There’s only a small section of these catacombs open to tours, but it’s said that locals may use the cold, safe space as a wine cellar.
In another sense, you could say that the tunnels in Paris are the largest catacombs, but not in physical size.
Where Is the Most Famous Catacomb?
Stretching 185 miles beneath Paris, France, you’ll find the most popular catacombs in the world.
These underground passageways, unlike in Odessa, were transformed into burial sites out of necessity.
At the end of the 18th century, long after these passages were excavated, the Parisians needed to move human remains from overcrowded cemeteries into a more isolated place.
The catacombs seemed like a perfect place, so with major efforts, 6 million human remains were transported underground.
They’re still there today, too, behind an entranceway that reads in French: “Stop! This is the empire of death.”
You can visit this historic site and see the bone walls and decor yourself. There are a few hundred feet of catacomb passages open for the public to tour the catacombs.
The largest and most popular don’t have the age that another catacomb site does in Malta.
Where Is the Oldest Catacomb?
Journey to Rabat, Malta to see the oldest discovered catacombs.
These excavations date back to 7 BC, but there have been many changes to them since then.
A notable (and beautiful) aspect of these burial grounds is that many families were buried together, showing the importance of blood bonds.
There are even features in the catacombs that allowed for loved ones to visit their dead beloveds by eating meals at long, ceremonial tables.
Something also telling of the time is that people of different cultures were buried together — no matter is they were Pagan, Christian, or Jewish.
The cultures of the time in Malta seemed to understand the importance of love and acceptance at the time of death.
They aren’t the only ones who reflected deeply on death. We see that those involved with the Chapel of Bones in Portugal did the same.
Where Is the Chapel of Bones?
Capela Dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones, is in Evora, Portugal.
Some of the walls of the catacombs, similar to those in Paris, are covered in bones.
It’s said that these were built in the 16th century by a Catholic priest. He hoped to evoke a sense of deep contemplation surrounding the impermanent nature of life. This ideal is reflected in writing across some walls.
What’s incredible about these catacombs is that many of them are extremely old but are only being rediscovered within the past few hundred years.
In fact, we’ve recently discovered new catacombs in the Czech Republic.
Where Is the Most Recently Discovered Catacomb?
Believe it or not, there was a newly discovered burial place in 2001 — the Brno Ossuary in the Czech Republic.
Technically, this isn’t a catacomb but a container for burial. That being said, it’s worth noting for two reasons.
The first is that aside from the Paris catacombs, this ossuary beneath St. Jacob’s Square holds the remains of more than 50,000 people. This makes it the second-largest ossuary in all of Europe.
The second reason why it’s important to note is the fact that it was discovered so recently.
That implies that there are perhaps many more secrets beneath the surface that have yet to be discovered.
Go Beneath the Surface to Experience Another Time
Now that you can answer, where is the world’s largest catacomb, you may be wondering: “why would I want to go to one of these places full of human remains?”
The answer seems to be the fact that you may gain a greater understanding of the human condition and our inevitable death by understanding how cultures of other times dealt with it.
This may evoke deep contemplation. Conversely, you may want to go simply to say that you’ve been to an ancient burial site, giving you material for the next ghost story you tell your friends.
Or, it may fulfill the needs of your inner history buff.
Regardless, the adventure is up to you. If you’re interested in visiting catacombs, do some research to find out which one suits your curiosity.
In the meantime, keep reading our blog for more things related to travel.