Last Updated on: 15th January 2023, 09:23 am
Do you enjoy exploring cemeteries when you travel? If so, Paris’s Cemetery Montmartre is one you shouldn’t miss.
Steve and I spent several hours there in June 2018, and it is still one of my favorite places.
It’s my pleasure to share my impressions of Cemetery Montmartre with you. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit if you already haven’t.
A Fascinating Yet Gruesome Start
The problems caused by overcrowding in Paris’s main cemetery, Cimitiere des Innocents, came to a head in 1780 when the 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 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 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.
You can read more about this huge undertaking and see some cool pictures in this article by Marilyn Brouwer in Bonjour Paris, The Insider’s Guide.
There were dozens of parish graveyards in the city, but the city leaders saw the need for more cemeteries to bury the newly dead. They also wanted them placed far from the city center. Therefore, 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 parish cemeteries.
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 on 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 after Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse.
The Cemetery has always had just one entrance. It is at 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018 under Rue Caulaincourt.
In 1888, a bridge, the Pont de Caulaincourt, was built over the cemetery. The original plan was to relocate the burial sites that were under the bridge. Some families objected, so the bridge was built over some sites.
The Pont de Caulaincourt as seen from inside Cemetery Montmartre
Some of the mausoleums that remained under the Pont de Caulaincourt
Imagine how careful the engineers had to be
Here is an interesting article that explains more of the history of the bridge over the cemetery.
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, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. It is four times the size of Cemetery Montmartre.
Pere Lachaise is definitely worth a visit, but after checking it out, Steve and I preferred Montmartre for three reasons:
First, Montmartre is set on many levels because it was 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 in the artistic neighborhood of the same name. Therefore, many people buried here were active in the arts, resulting in some unique monuments.
How cool is this memorial?
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.
The living and the dead share the neighborhood
Who’s Buried in Cemetery Montmartre
I knew that the artist Edger Degas was buried in Cemetery Montmartre, and I kept that in mind as I strolled past numerous tombs. At one point, I passed one that 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.
Edger Degas’s final resting place; note the drawings of ballerinas left by young girls
The French novelist, playwright, and journalist was initially 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.
Names of family members buried in the Zola family gravesite
Being from the U.S. I had never heard of Dalida, but her compelling memorial made me want to learn more.
Dalida’s gravesite in Cemetery Montmartre
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.
Here is a handy map to find these graves and more.
You can use Dale Dunlop’s post “Montmartre Cemetery – How to Enjoy a Self-Guided Tour” to make sure you don’t miss anything in the cemetery.
So Many Cemeteries, So Little Time
During the past few years, we have visited cemeteries in several cities. Of all the cemeteries we have seen, Cemetery Montmartre continues to hold a special place in our hearts.
Have you been to Cemetery Montmartre? Did you fall in love with it, too?
Which cemeteries have you visited, and which was your favorite?
Want to take your tombstone tourism a step farther? Check out these articles:
The Paris Insiders Guide on a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery
“Discover the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris” by French Moments
And of course, we can’t forget the catacombs. The catacomb workers were on strike when we visited Paris, so we missed this. Hopefully, you will be luckier. Here is a bit of catacomb history and tips for your visit from Courtney Traub at Paris Unlocked.