We've all heard about the sites to see in Paris--the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame. But what about the most popular sites with the locals? The sites all Parisians visit eventually? That's right--the cemeteries. Paris has some of the most beautiful graveyards in the world, and admission is free--for the living. Marble statues, bronze sculptures, and grand mansions for the dead. Morbid? Maybe, but nothing in Paris compares to the dark splendor of its boneyards. The French have a unique way of capturing grief in stone and bronze. Is there a trip to Paris in your future? Take my advice, visit the cemeteries. You won't be sorry. Here's a list of my favorites (in no particular order)-some large, some small, all with their own special charm:
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Le Pere Lachaise-A truly huge cemetery--a great stop for those who are on a tight schedule and can only fit one cemetery into their trip. Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust, Frederick Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Simone Signoret, Moliere, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Abelard and Heloise, Maria Callas, Isadora Duncan, and more, all call Du Pere Lachaise home. Located in the 20th arrondissement, the main entrance is on Boulevard de Menilmontant. Here you can pick up a map of famous grave sites, and get cracking. Don't bother with the folks selling maps outside--the overseer can provide you with a map of the gravesites that will serve you well. Don't forget to visit the Buchenwald Memorial. Steer clear at night-cats.
Montparnasse Cemetery--Located in the 14th arrondissement, at 3 boulevard Edgar Quinet. Lovely, large, not quite so often visited resting place of folks like Jean Paul Sartre, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Charles Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Guy de Maupassant, Man Ray, Constantin Brancusi, Alfred Dreyfus, and Samuel Beckett. For the brave, try the catacombs, where you can visit the millions of skulls and bones that were transported here from the city cemetery at Les Halles in 1786. Note the inscription above the entrance--" Stop! This is the empire of death. " During WWII, the French Resistance had its headquarters here.
Montmartre Cemetery--located at 20 avenue Rachel (18e arrondissement). Residents include Hector Berlioz, Andre Marie Ampere, Henri-George Clouzot, Edgar Degas, Vaslav Nijinski, and Alexandre Dumas Jr., among others. A lovely, not so vast cemetery that sits atop the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. Near Sacre Coeur. A heck of a hike, but well worth it. While in the area, take in St. Vincent's cemetery, which is also not far from Sacre Coeur.
The Pantheon-- a good one for scientists and politicians. Originally a reconstruction of the old St. Geneveive church ordered by Louis XV (to fulfill a promise made to God while ill), it became a necropolis for great men when the leaders of the French Revolution had it converted upon their victory. Located at Place du Pantheon, it is the final resting place of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Zola, Braille, Hugo, and many others. A very imposing structure.
Picpus--Located on Rue de Picpus, in the 12th arrondissement. A great place if you want a taste of Robespierre's reign of terror. Picpus is the place where the bodies of the guillotine's victims were thrown--stripped of their clothing and tossed in an open pit. Among the dead, Marquis de Lafayette. The pit was not closed until after Robespierre's death (by guillotine, of course). Behind the altar in the chapel nearby are tiles upon which the name, profession, age, and date of execution of each of the victims are listed. Really brings it home.
Les Invalides--not really a cemetery in the Montmartre or Montparnasse style, but a must go if you've ever wanted to see sheer excess in graveyard fashion. Last, exceedingly posh resting place for Napoleon Bonaparte, much of his family, and various military leaders of the day.
Cimetiere des Chiens-very creepy--you might want to leave the kids at home for this one. It's a well-tended pet cemetery, located in the suburbs of Paris, near the Pont de Clichy (Metro: Gabriel-Peri). A tribute, I suppose, to how well loved the Parisian cat or dog can be. Some may find this lovely, but it made my skin crawl.
If you're ever in Paris and tire of the more mundane (and perhaps tasteful) tourist destinations, I definitely recommend a few days spent exploring the boneyards. It's always interesting, often educational, and sometimes deeply touching.
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