A Paris Stroll with the Dead

It might sound strange, but a weekend wandering around the graveyards of Paris is a great way to spend some time.  The cemeteries are in quiet settings, with trees and landscaping.  They have some beautiful monuments and sepulchres, and they are the resting place of many famous people, from France and also from all over the world.  Why not take a trip up to Paris on the train or by air, and check out these little known gems.

The Pantheon houses some of France’s greatest names, including Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Pasteur, and Braille. It’s an imposing building. If you want to be buried there you need the French parliament to pass an Act, so you need to start thinking of something pretty amazing to do to merit it. Foucault’s pendulum was demonstrated here as a way of demonstrating the earth’s rotation.

Pere-Lachaise, the cemetery in a corner of north-eastern Paris, is affectionately called la cite des morts– the city of the dead– by Parisians. With its rolling hills, hundreds of trees, winding paths with carefully plotted “street” names, and elaborate sepulchers and tombs, it’s easy to see why Pere-Lachaise is considered Paris’ most hauntingly beautiful place of rest. And countless great figures have their resting place here, including composer Chopin, authors Moliere, Balzac, Richard Wright, and Oscar Wilde (below), actors Sarah Bernhardt, Pierre Brasseur, motor-racing driver Léon Théry (above), writers Proust and Colette, dancer Isadora Duncan, Jazzman Stephane Grappelli, mime Marcel Marceau, singers Maria Callas and Edith Piaf, and Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

Montparnasse is split into two parts, and includes a vast array of French greats including writers Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Alexandre Dumas fils, and Susan Sontag, film director HG Clouzot, musicians Camille Saint-Saens and Cesar Franck, the greatest scapegoat of all time Alfred Dreyfus, industrialist Andre Citroen,the sculptor Constantin Brancusi (and you can see one of his pieces over a grave in division 19 petit), actors Jean Seberg and Philippe Noiret, and the philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir together.

Opened in 1820, Passy cemetery is named after what was then a local village, and covers only about 1.7 hectares (4.2 acres). It may be small but Passy has some of the city’s finest funerary sculptures and is also the final resting place of several interesting characters. It has Impressionists both in painting (Manet), and in music, (Debussy), noted aviators (Costes and Bellonte), aircraft designer (Henry Farman), an American silent screen star Pearl White, and wonderful and unique funerary sculpture that has to be seen to be appreciated.

Montmartre: Covering more than 10 hectares (nearly 25 acres) in the hollow of an old quarry in the 18th arrondissement, and built below street level, Montmartre was opened in 1825. It has two busy roads running through it now, but it still offers quiet corners to find. The cemetery houses the remains of the painter Edgar Degas, Italian Egyptian singer Dalida (above), composer Jacques Offenbach, German writer Heinrich Heine, Russian dancer Nijinsky, novelist Stendhal, saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax, film director Francois Truffaut, and Emile Zola’s family (he was removed to the Pantheon).

Last point – if you want to find Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb, head south of the Seine to Les Invalides. This imposing gold decorated dome is where the Emperor lies.