SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

PARIS

10 spookiest places to visit in Paris this Halloween

There is a dark side to the City of Light, and it's very dark indeed. Here, the experts at Dark Paris have shared the spookiest stories from the French capital.

10 spookiest places to visit in Paris this Halloween
Did you know the Paris Catacombes are haunted by the ghost of a liquor thief? Photo: AFP

If you fancy a visit to some sites with a real sense of the macabre or mysterious then read on. But be warned – don’t visit them alone at night…

1. Frozen corpses on display 

The Paris morgue was erected 1864 on the Île de la Cité, and was a marvel of science, boasting the ability to freeze solid any corpses that arrived at its doors to protect them from decay and disfiguration. 

READ ALSO Not many pumpkins but a day off – how the French celebrate Halloween

The bodies – or the “macchabées” in 19th Century Parisian slang – were displayed behind glass walls, sometimes for years, waiting for their families to come and identify them. 

However the morgue soon became an attraction for locals and tourists hungry for the unusual. It was closed in the early part of the 20th century before World War I when embalming came into play. In place of the morgue today is the Paris Holocaust Memorial. 

2. The butcher who sold human flesh

The Rue Chanoinesse near Notre Dame Cathedral boasts a row of very old and charming shops with apartments above. During the Middle Ages, travellers who couldn’t afford to get married in the cathedral would come to get married here, with priests welcoming the extra pocket money.

This was the perfect opportunity for a local barber and butcher to kidnap the newcomers, cooking their bodies and selling the meat in patties. 

The stone where they were slaughtered remained until a police station was built in the 20th century. It’s believed that this may have been the inspiration for the story of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  

3. The most beautiful corpse in history

Sometime during the winter of 1880, the body of a young girl was pulled out of the Seine River near the Louvre. She was unscarred and didn’t appear to have been harmed at all. In fact, bizarrely, she looked completely at peace. 

 

When she was taken to the Paris morgue the morticians were so impressed with her beauty that they made a death mask of her. She became an instant sensation among the Parisians who called her the “Mona Lisa of the Seine”. 

She was so loved she became the model for the first CPR dummy which remains in use today. Some refer to her as “the most kissed girl in the world” considering how many Parisian firemen and medics have learned their resuscitation skills with her help.  

4. The ghost of the catacombs

In 1793, a man called Philihert Aspairt ventured into the pitch-black catacombs of Paris to steal some Chartreuse Liquor from the cellar of a local convent. 

His bones were discovered 11 years later, identifiable by the set of keys beside him. It’s believed that he got lost when his candle went out. Proof, if it were needed, that you really shouldn’t steal from nuns.

It’s said his ghost awakens every November 3rd and wanders the catacombs blowing out candles and whispering in the ears of tourists. He is now known as the “Saint of the Cataphiles” referring to the groups of Parisian who frequent the underground network of tunnels. 

5. Ghost of the Red Man 

The ‘Red Man’ of the Tuilieries was murdered for spreading propaganda about French queen Catherine de Medici in the 1500s. 

He is said to have risen from the dead and cursed the French Royals who inhabited the Louvre, many of whom died in a string of mysterious circumstances.  

Could he still be wondering around the Louvre today, even though the French throne has been vacant for well over 100 years?

6. Off with their head!

The Place de la Concorde was one of the prime spots where people were guillotined in France. But did you know that the Guillotine is actually considered the most humane and painless form of execution?

It was created before the French Revolution and remained the number one form of execution in France until September 10th, 1977, three months after Darth Vadar was revealed to the world in Star Wars.

One of the last of France’s guillotines was most recently on show at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

7. The most haunted street in Paris

In the darkest corner of Île de la Cité lies Rue des Chantres, said to be the most haunted street in the city.

During the 1900s, children with consumption (TB) were kept in an annex of the Hotel-Dieu on this street to keep them from infecting the rest of the population.  

One winter the River Seine overflowed into the surrounding streets and the children all drowned, unable to escape their locked rooms. It is said that their spirits still play in the little courtyard at the base of the street and their and their shadows, screams, and laughter still haunt the dark street.  
 
8. The Paris gallows
 
The gibbet (or gallows) of Montfaucon knew death like nowhere else. This construction, which was on the Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles in the 10th arrondissement (the modern Place du Colonel Fabien), was built in the 13th century used for six centuries.  
 

There, the bodies of the condemned were put on display as they rotted, used as a warning to the public. Archers were on hand, ready to take out any body snatchers or the families trying to reclaim their dead relatives.

The gibbet was finally knocked down in 1760. 

9. The Human Zoo

A human ‘zoo’ was built in 1907 in the Bois de Vincennes, where half a dozen villages were set up to promote French colonialism. This meant that you could see locals from countries like Madagascar, Sudan, Congo, and Tunisia living in their “natural habitats”.

The human zoo remains standing today, but is overgrown and in limbo, as destroying it may be considered to be a “cover up” by authorities.

10. The ghost of the Eiffel Tower

The story goes that in 1925, an American fell in love with a French woman called Sofie after meeting her in the Jardin du Luxembourg. 

After courting her through a series of culture clashes, he proposed to her on the first level of the Eiffel Tower. 

But when he pulled the ring out of his pocket, she screamed, backing up to the edge of the tower where she tripped and fell to her death. Legend has it people still see a girl in 1920s clothing sitting on the railing out of the corner of their eyes. Some say they hear her screams on the anniversary of her death. 

These tips were provided by the folks at Dark Paris (originally called Mysteries of Paris), the most macabre walking tour guides in Paris. The team offers small group and private tours to see the “Dark side of the City of Lights”. Find out more about their latest book here.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

FRENCH HISTORY

French history myths: There is buried treasure in Rennes-le-Château

Legend has it that a penniless priest once stumbled upon gold hidden in the French countryside - a story that still inspires treasure-hunters.

French history myths: There is buried treasure in Rennes-le-Château

Myth: A penniless priest in the small town of Rennes-le-Château, south west France, discovered treasure in the late 1800s. That treasure is still hidden somewhere in the countryside. 

The story begins 1885 when Father Bérenger Saunière took over the parish of a small town in the Aude département, not far from Carcassonne, called Rennes-le-Château.

But the church, l’église Saint Mary Magdalene, that Saunière inherited was practically in ruins, so he set upon refurbishing the building – which surprised those around him who knew of his strained financial situation. According to legend, Saunière implied that he had discovered treasure and was using that to pay for the renovations. When he died, the location of the treasure supposedly died with him.

Fast forward to the years following World War II – a restauranteur and entrepeneur by the name of Noël Corbu acquired an estate in Rennes-le-Château, and along with it supposed archives from Saunière about how he had discovered the treasure of a former queen of France – Blanche of Castille (though some say it was the Treasure of the Cathars or the Knights Templar).

Corbu made it his mission to spread the story near and far, with the regional press reporting about the “priest with billions.”

Visitors came from across France to learn about the legend and try to find the treasure hidden in Rennes-le-Château – and to eat in Corbu’s restaurant and stay in his newly-opened hotel. 

So how did the priest get the money for his expensive renovations? The answer, according to a 60 Minutes special by CBS News, was “good old fashioned fraud.” The priest likely stole from donations and asked for payments for hundreds of Masses that he never actually performed. 

The Da Vinci Code series is also responsible for bringing the small town back into public eye. One of Dan Brown’s main characters is named Jacques Saunière, inspired by the priest. Brown supposedly visited the village and drew inspiration, as it had also been made famous in the book “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” that expanded on Corbu’s claims of having found hidden, secret documents belonging to the priest.

The book asserts that those documents contained proof that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that their child went on to become the Merovingian line (a dynasty of French kings).

Historians refute these claims too, and several excavations have been conducted at the church. Though they have never unearthed anything of substance, that has not stopped eager treasure hunters from digging holes and lugging their metal detectors to the small village, seeking the truth behind the legend.

This article is part of our August series on popular myths and misconceptions about French history.

SHOW COMMENTS