Visiting Paris’ cemeteries may not be your idea of having fun. However, if you are truly in love with the City of Light, you have every reason to walk through the gates of one of the city’s 14 intra-muros sites. The Père Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse cemeteries figure among the most prestigious in Paris and France. Each one is a lesson in history told in an open and stunningly beautiful setting. And like all other necropolises, they are free.
With its rolling hills, thousands of trees, and winding paths with carefully plotted “street names,” it’s easy to see why this cemetery is considered one of Paris’ most striking landmarks. Built at Napoleon’s order, it opened in 1804. Today, the 109-acre site receives two millions visitors a year – making it the most widely toured resting site in the capital.
However, its early days were difficult as Parisians snubbed the cemetery because of its location in faraway Belleville. But its fate would change soon after Balzac, a later resident, mentioned the cemetery in his writings. And, from a simple potter’s field, the cemetery became, over a few years, ‘the’ place to “rest in peace”.
Its first famous occupants, La Fontaine and Moliere, were followed by celebrities such as, Edith Piaf, Eugene Delacroix, Frederic Chopin, George Bizet, Gertrude Stein and Isadora Duncan, to name only a few. As you wander around, you may uncover touching details about the lives of the residents.
If you stop by Chopin’s tombstone, you will learn that although he was attached to France, the composer never forgot his native city of Warsaw. So, his body was buried here and his heart sent back to Poland. Le Père Lachaise is rich in stories of this kind worth writing down in your travel diary and bragging about back home.
Some cemeteries exude a certain charm and Montmartre is one of them. The site epitomizes the artsy, quixotic, gentle, almost whimsical Paris that every romantic visitor wants to feel a part of. Although the French movie Amélie turned Montmartre Cemetery into a favorite hangout for visitors from all around the world, the peaceful site has retained its original cachet.
For many years, Montmartre stood as the bohemian and artistic center of Paris, so it goes without saying that its eternal occupants share the same bent. Hector Berlioz, Jean-Pierre Foucault, Sacha Guitry, Stendhal and Francois Truffaut figure among the illustrious personalities resting there.
Built in the hollow of a former gypsum quarry in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre opened its doors in 1825. The green space is packed with striking sculptures. The famous Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky is represented as the puppet Petroushka. The superb statue of Egyptian-born and iconic singer Dalida will take your breath away. You will need less than two hours to visit the 27-acre site. And then, you can be on your way to Chez la mère Catherine, one of Paris’ very first bistros.
20 avenue Rachel
Paris 18th arrondissement
Metro: Blanche or Place de Clichy
Buses: 95,80, 74, 54 or 30
Created from three farms in 1824, the 35-acre necropolis is the second largest after le Père Lachaise. It honors the memory of the intellectual and artistic elite —Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, Man Ray, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Serge Gainsbourg. You will also find Pierre Larousse, author of one of the French-English dictionaries that you may use. One of Paris’ largest green spaces, Montmartre Cemetery has at least 1,200 trees. The vast garden offers an oasis of tranquility right in the heart of the busy 14th arrondissement.
At every corner, you will discover magnificent sculptures, such as the Génie du sommeil éternel (the genius of the eternal sleep) by Horace Daillion. Another impressive artwork stands on Mrs. Zao Wou-Ki’s tombstone. She created the white marble sculpture that adorns her tombstone.
3 boulevard Edgar Quinet
Paris 14th Arrondissement
Metro: Line 6 exit Raspail or Quinet
Whether you are seeking the grave of your favorite romantic poet, baroque music composer or opera singer or just looking for a tranquil green place in the city, there is a memorable cemetery for you.
Written by Brigitte Aflalo-Calderon for EuropeUpClose.com