A cemetery…not likely to hit many people’s to-do list when they’re in a foreign country. Some may find the idea of visiting a cemetery in another country odd. It’s unlikely you’ll know anyone buried there, so why else would you visit?
But that’s just what my boyfriend and I did during our trip to Paris. There are a couple of well-known cemeteries in Paris, with high-profile people buried there. We’re talking the likes of actors, politicians, musicians and writers. We didn’t visit the most ‘popular’ cemetery, but instead stumbled upon Montparnasse cemetery as it was the one closest to our hotel.
We’d walked through it on our way to the catacombs, and when we spotted the queue there, had walked back through it on our way to the nearest metro. It was at this point that we really looked at the graves. Cemeteries in England usually consist of rows and rows of gravestones that all look very similar, and you have to walk among the graves to get to the one you’re looking for. Montparnasse cemetery however, has roads, a small tourist office and even a map!
We did initially get a bit lost, but at the roundabout (yes, there’s even a roundabout!) we spotted one of the exits and decided that’d be our best bet for the metro. It was only as we neared the exit that we spotted the map, and it was only then that we decided it’d be kind of cool to have a look around.
I had a slight dilemma here. I find it a bit odd to take photos of gravestones, but those in this cemetery are absolutely amazing. They’re more like shrines than gravestones, with doors and windows. And some of them are really pretty!
So we had a wander around the cemetery, and I spotted a few names I recognised. For my university dissertation, I did a great deal of reading on feminism, spending a vast amount of time pouring over Simone de Beaviour’s work – and as we wandered around, I spotted her gravestone. A modest, simple and elegant number in comparison to the surrounding ones, but I was still in awe. Another famous gravestones we spotted was that of Andre Citreon and his family.
I have to say, I found it odd that we were walking around admiring these gravestones that were more like shrines. But there’s something about the place that just made it so interesting, even if it was just admiring the grandeur people were offered once they’d died.
We had also recently been up Montparnasse Tower, and seen the cemetery from above. While up there, we noticed a building in the cemetery that looked like a miniature Rapunzel tower. Intrigued, we figured we’d try and find it as we wandered about. The cemetery is that big, that it took us a while to actually find it.
I’d be interested to find out how much a plot would cost in Montparnasse cemetery. We saw a few empty plots, and even one that had a grave built for people who hadn’t yet died! Not often that someone can appreciate their burial place before they need to use it. It also became apparent as we wandered around that the plots were used for families, with multiple names on most of the gravestones.
Next time we’re in Paris, we’ll definitely be visiting Père Lachaise Cemetery, which is home to Oscar Wilde among the many high profile graves there. And I’m interested to see if the gravestones are as grand there as they are in Montparnasse cemetery.
• Do a bit of research before you head to the cemetery and see if there’s anyone buried there who you admire, or whose work you have studied.
• If you find it a bit morbid to ‘visit’ the cemetery, you could always just pass through on your way to somewhere else – it can be quite a handy shortcut!
• There are two parts to this cemetery, separated by a general access road. Don’t be fooled by the walls furthest away from Montparnasse Tower, the other smaller section is just the other side.
• If you head up Montparnasse Tower, take a look at the size of the cemetery.