Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France

Montmartre Cemetery (Cimetiére de Montmartre) is the third largest necropolis in Paris; situated in the 18th arrondissement the cemetery, as it now stands, dates from the early 19th century though the history of the site does predate this period. In the 18th century the land now occupied by Montmartre provided access to gypsum quarries, of which there were many in the area. By the time of the French Revolution the quarry had been abandoned and was used as a mass grave for those killed during riots, including the graves of several hundred Swiss Guards.

By the mid 18th century overcrowding in the cemeteries of Paris had reached crisis level and when the ‘Cimetiére des Innocents’ was closed in the 1780s the citizens of Paris were banned from burying corpses within the city limits. Montmartre, Pére Lachaise, Passy and Montparnasse Cemeteries were opened in the early 19th century just outside the precincts of the capital. Montmartre Cemetery was opened on the 1st January 1825. It was initially known as ‘la Cimetiére des Grandes Carriéres’ (Cemetery of the Large Quarries) and was built below street level into the hollow of the abandoned quarries and above the mass grave.

There are many famous writers, scientists, artists and composers buried within the 25 acres of Montmartre, and many people I visitors I saw seemed intent on making their way to all the ‘famous graves’. Some notable characters buried within the walls are Alexandre Dumas (novelist, playwright), Vaslav Nijinsky (possibly the most famous ballet dancer of all time), Adolphe Sax (the inventor of the saxophone) and the family of Emile Zola (writer). Personally the graves of famous or notable characters is not of huge importance to me, although I was delighted to visit the grave of Dumas being a fan of his work, but it was more important to me to experience the aesthetic beauty of this peaceful place.

I spent four hours in Montmartre during my visit and I must say I preferred it to the more popular Pére-Lachaise (which will be featured over the coming weeks). One of the aspects I found most haunting about the monuments of Montmartre were the sculptures that stood beside the tombs and graves. Obviously growing up in a Christian country the majority of images you find sculptured in graveyards feature religious iconography. Montmartre, perhaps due to its multi-denominational nature, features all types of sculpture, from the almost comical and bitter-sweet cactus sculpture or the wire robot sculpture, to ones far more dark and foreboding. The sheer drama of an effigy of the departed with a crying sculpture beside them, many times sculpted to represent the partner or wife of the deceased had a huge emotional resonance. The stained-glass images in some of the tombs also echoed this drama, with a picture of the dead etched in the glass, it added a depth to the experience. I have also kept featured an image of a husband and wife facing one another that I noticed on one tomb, buried side by side despite religion, her young face and the date of her death showing she died many years before her husband.

It is the lives lived you can imagine from just staring at one of these stones for a moment that make graveyards such fascinating places. I feel my pictures can never do justice to this peaceful haven set in a busy district of Paris, however I would deeply impress upon anyone visiting the city to take a stroll around its beautiful tree lined walkways and take the time to admire its captivating tombs.

GPS: 48.8879, 2.32988

9 thoughts on “Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France

  1. lsnt it amazing how Cemeteries hold a fasination for us,that are above ground,and usually,the older the better, tombs, statues,vaults,and the history that goes with these,l doubt,if,in years to come,our kids,kids,kids..etc,will have the same morbid cravings for our headstones,as l dont think we’r up to the same caliber of our long deceased inlaws or even outlaws.Great photos….xx

  2. As we’ve discussed prior, I’ve not been to Montmartre Cemetary nor Montparnasse, but have spent many enjoyable hours in Pere-Lachaise. I’ll be very interested to hear you opinion of that cemetary and, although it’s looking doubtful this trip, I’d love to try to fit in Montparnasse. Your photos bring to life, er, death, this fascinating place! 🙂 Adieu, Ed

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