Pere Lachaise – didiergauducheau.com
Text by Simone Blaser
It has to be said. There is only a smattering of spots in Paris that have attracted the crème de la crème of French society as steadily and as constantly as the Parisian cemeteries. Cimetière Montmartre, Montparnasse, and Père Lachaise all boast a “who’s who” of French history.
How different it feels to be in a French cemetery! None of the sterility, none of the rows neat like lines of crops, less of the impending doom of the American graveyard. In Paris, cemeteries are like outdoor museums filled with the sculpture-graves of the wealthy and important, myriad unknowns, and of course, intellectual artistic superstars.
Linda Donahue – Parisien Salon – Pere Lachaise
Here are some of my favorites. In Montmartre, find filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s black marble tomb. There’s no frippery here, but you may find notes from film buffs around the world. Impressionist (and chronic ballerina-portrayer) Edgar Degas rests in the Famille de Gas mausoleum. A medallion on the door features a carving of the artist wearing a floppy hat; art-enthusiasts will recognize the loopy scrawl below his face as Degas’ own signature.
In Montparnasse, there is the shared grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, striking for its simplicity—almost barren. The white marble tombstone features only their names and their birth- and death-dates. There is Samuel Beckett’s grave, also stark (“Why celebrate a life that was replete with suffering, unanswered questions, waiting?” Beckett seems to be asking us from six feet below). If you’re tired of existentialism, there’s Serge Gainsbourg, whose grave is crowded with plants, plaques, and photos. And there’s the artist Man Ray, “unconcerned but not indifferent,” as his epitaph—hand-carved by his wife Juliet!—reads. Just lovely.
In Père Lachaise: Find Gertrude Stein (unmarked on the map!) and Alice B. Toklas in a joint grave whose appearance changes based on where one stands. From the ‘back,’ it appears to be Toklas’ grave; from the ‘front,’ Stein’s. Guillame Appollinaire’s grave doubles as a poem. One part of the monument is a free standing monolith, rough, natural, unsanded. At its base is another slab on which a poem, seen here, is inscribed. Oscar Wilde’s grave is covered in kisses. Designed by the sculptor Jacob Epstein, it was at one time covered by the French—the French!—for indecency.
And of course there’s Jim Morrison, probably the most famous American to be buried in a French cemetery. His grave has been a pilgrimage site for years, and though you may not see any fans arriving on hands and knees, you will certainly see the marks of their admiration and devotion. From 1981 – 1988, a bust of Morrison’s head lived at the site, sculpted by a Croatian sculptor and covered with personal messages from pilgrims, but it was stolen in 1988. Today, a flat stone stands atop a basin filled with flowers, empty bottles, and vinyl records.
My favorites are mostly literary, but extensive lists can be found of other luminaries: Chopin, Modigliani, and Sarah Bernhardt in Père Lachaise, to name a few.
Maybe you’ll go because you want fresh air and a stroll—hiking the hills in Père Lachaise is great exercise!—or maybe you’ll go to brush up on your French history; maybe you want to make a pilgrimage to the graves of your own personal heroes; maybe you just like cemeteries. Whatever your reason for going, take a deep breath, and feast your eyes on this visual smorgasboard.
PS. The maps of Montparnasse and Montmartre are free; the map of Père Lachaise isn’t. Save your money and instead take a photo with your digital camera to refer to while you’re traipsing around, getting lost and getting found.
More information and a list of celebs buried in Montmartre can be found here.
More information and a list of celebs buried in Montparnasse can be found here.
More information and a list of celebs buried in Père Lachaise (and a virtual tour!) can be found here.
Cimetière Montmartre. 20, avenue Rachel, 18th arron. M: Blanche (Line 2) or Place de Clichy (Line 2 or 13).
Cimetière Montparnasse. 3, boulevard Edgar Quinet, 14th arron. M: Raspail (Line 4) or Edgar Quinet (Line 6).
Cimetière Père Lachaise. 16, rue du Repos, 20th arron. M: Père Lachaise (Line 2 or 3) or Philippe-Auguste (Line 2)