When Steve and I started traveling in 2018 the first two cities we spent a long time in were Barcelona and Paris. Talk about setting the bar high.
Between these two cities there were three places that spoiled us for all others:
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Versailles near Paris
Cemetery Montmartre in Paris
Every time we visit a house of worship, a palace, or a cemetery we can’t help comparing it to these three places.
It is my pleasure to share our impressions of Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully you will be inspired to visit it if you haven’t already.
A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start
The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, reached a head in 1780 when a wall of a mass grave collapsed, sending corpses tumbling into an adjacent basement. This was the last straw for Cimitiere des Innocents. This cemetery in Paris’s 1st arrondissement had been a concern because of the vast amount of bodies buried there so close to the populous. The city could no longer continue to add to the body count that had been growing for at least six centuries.
Like something out of a horror movie, the remains from Cimitiere des Innocents were eventually relocated. For two years carts covered with black veils would journey through the streets of Paris at night, accompanied by chanting priests. The new resting place was an abandoned quarry in the 14th arrondissement which is now known as The Catacombs.
When the gruesome work was done, Cimitiere des Innocents was destroyed.
Four New Cemeteries Are Born
During this time dozens of parish graveyards, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries in which to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them to be placed far from the city center.
To fill this need, four cemeteries were founded outside the city limits. Montmartre to the north, Montparnasse to the south, Pere Lachaise to the east, and Passy to the west.
The first of the four new cemeteries to open was Pere Lachaise in 1804. In the approximately 25 years from the closure of the Cimitiere des Innocents until the opening of Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the dead were buried in the existing cemeteries.
Montmartre: Not the Most Celebrated Parisian Cemetery
Many lists of the best cemeteries to visit include Pere Lachaise. It has many famous residents including:
Frederic Chopin – Composer, pianist
Jim Morrison – lead singer for The Doors
Edith Piaf – singer, songwriter, actress
Oscar Wilde – writer
Pere Lachaise is more than double the size of any other cemetery in Paris and about four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.
It is definitely worth a visit but after visiting both Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:
First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it is built on an abandoned gypsum quarry. This makes for a more interesting walk and provides more exciting vistas than the flatter Pere Lachaise.
Second, Montmartre is the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many of the people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.
Third, Montmartre is part of its neighborhood. The vibrance of the area (and how can you not love Montmartre?) can be felt since the cemetery is literally in the thick of things.
Cemetery Montmartre History and Facts
Cemetery Montmartre was established in an abandoned gypsum quarry that had been used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. The fact that it was a big hole in the ground accounts for its unique topography.
The cemetery opened January 1, 1825 in Paris’s 18th arrondissement.
Its official name is the Cimetiere du Nord.
Its original name was Cimetière des Grandes Carrieres or the Cemetery of the Large Quarries. Why do things always sound more elegant in French?
Cemetery Montmartre covers over 25 acres (10.48 hectares) and is the third-largest in Paris. Pere Lachaise is the largest, and Montparnasse is the second largest.
The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.
In 1888 a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocated the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected so the bridge was built over some sites.
Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.
Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre
I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre and I kept this in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point I passed one the said Famille de Gas. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate last name (thinking of the English “gas”, not the French).
I finally resorted to looking up Degas’s grave using Find a Grave. Famille de Gas WAS Degas’s gravesite.
The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was originally buried in Montmartre. Five years later his remains were relocated to the Pantheon, the mausoleum where many great French leaders, scientists, writers, and artists are interred.
Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.
Dalida was the professional name of a famous French singer from 1956 to 1987. She was very successful in Europe even though she did not release her music to the U.S. or U.K. markets.
She faced many struggles in her personal life including the suicides of several people with whom she was close. She committed suicide in 1987 at the age of 54.
The next time you find yourself in Paris be sure to visit Cemetery Montmartre at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018.
So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time
During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all of cemeteries we have seen so far, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts. But the world is big and there is so much more to see.
Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it too?
Which cemeteries around the world have you visited and have any of them spoiled you for all others?
Safe and Happy Traveling,