Sunday, August 27, 2006


Montparnasse was originally called the “southern cemetery” of Paris, and is divided by rue Emile Richard, which effectively cuts it into two sections.

This division is described by Culbertson/Randall as “old” and “new” sections, with the “old” section being the smaller of the two, whereas Bertrand Beyern's Guide des Tombes d'hommes celebres, refers to the "old" section as the "petit" or small cemetery. For our purposes we'll stick with Culbertson/Randall.) In effect divisions 17, 19, and 25-27 all have both “new” and “old” parts. A quick glance at the map provided by the cemetery office will show you how this works. (photo: grave of Alain Leseiutre in division 1.)

And speaking of maps, the only one available is that provided by the cemetery. If you are looking for someone not on the map and inquire at the office you will need to know a date of death as well as the name.

At half the size of Pere Lachhaise and laid out in a much more orderly fashion, Montparnasse feels and indeed looks like a typical cemetery. Streets are laid out at (mostly) right angles, and divisions appear easily marked. At first glance you might think it will be a breeze finding your way around. Looks can be deceiving, however, and Montparnasse is no exception.

The singular problem at Montparnasse is that the lines separating the divisions are often faint if not impossible to discern. Divisions 10-13 and 9-6 run very close together, with a thin, virtually nonexistent line separating one from the other. You will have to spend some time acquainting yourself with the layout and how one section connects with one another in order to use the maps effectively – and particularly if you are looking for several or more individuals. I continued using the Culbertson/Randall book (1986 edition) and found their maps to be a bit more helpful since they at least tried to lay out the smaller alleyways which sort of subdivided divisions. (photo: grave of Cesar Baldichinni in division 6.)

Montparnasse is the resting place for several individuals whose fame transcends French borders. Cesar Franck, Camille Saint-Saens, the American actress Jean Seberg, French photographer Man Ray, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, Statue of Liberty designer Frederic Bartholdi, flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, writer Charles Baudelaire and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Others worthy of a stop for their fantastic sculptures marking: aviatrice Maryse Bastie (division 6), Cesar (Baldicchini in division 3), Honore Champion (division 3), Antoine Etex (division 7), de Max’s "separation of a couple” (division 4), Henri Laurens (also division 7), Charles Sainte-Beuve (division 17), and Baudelaire’s cenotaph between division 26 and 27 (new cemetery).

Probably the most controversial gravesite in Montparnasse – if not in all of Paris – is that of former French army office Alfred Dreyfus. Tried for treason on trumped up charges the case became a cause celebre marking the highpoint (or rather low point) in corrupt French politics framed by Emile Zola’s famous ‘J’accuse” directed at the very cornerstone of the rot in the system, Felix Faure gross army incompetence and latent anti-Semitism, all issues which would continue to plague France until well into the 20th century and beyond. Curiously Alfred’s grave cannot be presently located or at least the headstone seems to be missing. (Oh and if you're wondering, Felix Faure is buried in Pere Lachaise, laid out just as he was when he died in his mistress's bed). (photo: de Max's "separation of a couple" in division 4.)

Less well known and not marked in the Culbertson/Randall book but still worth a look are:

- an angel holding a young woman over the grave of Alain Lesieutre (division 1)
- pair of enormous hands holding a cross at Robert Thibier’s grave (division 2)
- a woman forever dropping flowers onto a grave (division 3)
- Charles Blech’s grave with a woman seated wearing a veil (division 4)
- Laurent Simonpaoli’s bold sculpture (division 6)
- “Ricardo’s” big toy (division 6)
- the chessboard over world chess champion Alexander Alekhine (division 8)
- Pierre Felix de Morant’s bust and his death mask on the same stone (division 9)
- the touching Milik monument (division 10)
- Rene and Marcelle Combe’s monument to each other (division 10)
- Valentine Lecomte du Nuoy reclining for eternity (divison 13)
- statuette holding the stone down over the De Dieu Anglade family (division 13)
- the woman holding the wall back over the Bartlett family (division 12/13)
- the disturbing piece over Leopold Kretz (division 14)
- the enormous insect holding forth in division 18 (right along Avenue de l’Est)
- Rene Marchand’s insouciant monument which is
- next to Charles Pigeon reading (?) to his wife in bed (division 22)
- the diminutive angel mourning for Albert Coet (division 22)
- Jenny Mewes and her family (division 26 new)
- a uniformed Nicolai Roussev striding and carrying a bugle (division 26 old)
- the Morice family (division 26 old)
- Nancy Fleury’s name being written forever (division 27 new)
- woman reading to child at the Barboux monument (division 28)
- the mystery of Claude Jauberthie and her signaling quiet (division 28)
- angel with horn at the Touzet family (division 29)
- yet another woman sleeping for eternity (division 29)
- the Wallon family and their awesome mosaics (division 29)
- the poignancy of the Dudzhik & Mimran monument (division 29)
- kissing mama (?) goodbye at the Maillols’ monument (division 29)
- and Armand Cahen’s art deco pavilion (division 30).

I have posted a wide vaariety of photos from Montparnasse online. You can see them by simply clicking here.

If you have any questions, corrections or suggestions about the cemetery by all means send it on. Not even the dead stay put forever.

Next up -- Montmartre cemetery!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Touring the cemetery

You’ve got your lunch, water, good shoes, camera, and made your bathroom stop. Now it’s time to start exploring.

Every year hundreds of thousands of people pass through the cemetery – temporarily of course – looking for some of the famous and nearly famous, or maybe they want to pay homage to a hero or inspiration. Whatever the reason this cemetery is one of the major tourist stops in Paris to be sure. (photo: Joaquin Maria de Errazu in division 68.)

From my experience I would say there are at least three kinds of visitors to Pere Lachaise. First are the Parisians themselves who enjoy strolling through the cemetery or meeting friends for lunch in front of the chapel with a view of the Eiffel tower.

Second are the “casual tourists” who come to Pere Lachaise because it’s in their guidebook and they want to find the graves of Jim Morrison (of the Doors fame) and Frederick Chopin (of the Chopin fame). Of course much of a site’s popularity often depends upon nationality. For example, the French gravitate to Colette, Marie Trintignant and Gilbert Becaud among others, while the Italians seek out composers Victor Bellini and Giochinno Rossini (even though their remains were long ago returned to Italy). And the number of people from all over the world who visit the grave of “spiritist” Allan Kardec is pretty astounding. (“Allan who?” you ask.)

Third are the “serious tourists”, those people who have their map (or maps) in hand along with pen or pencil and are determined to find as many famous or, if not famous, as many unique grave markers as they possibly can. The serious ones usually work alone whereas the casual tourists roam in pairs or even large groups.

Deciding which kind of visitor will of course determine how you tour the cemetery.

I decided I was going to spend at least a week – and indeed it became rather longer than that in any event – enough time to roam freely, stepping off the main streets whenever the urge moved me or I saw something in the distance that might warrant up close investigation, to explore the divisions in detail.

In fact I had several objectives: I wanted to find many of the famous to be sure; I also wanted to find the more unique grave markers as well, and at the same time I wanted to photograph many of the unique aspects of the cemetery: the tumbled, ruins, the beautiful foliage covered old stones, the streets of this “city of the dead”, I wanted to see as much of the cemetery as possible and photograph as much as I possibly could.(photo: Louis Viscounti in division 4.)

What do you want to see?

I know of no better "by-the-numbers" guidebook than Culbertson/Randall's multi-tour approach to Pere Lachaise for those who want to maximize their limited time or just want to touch the "highpoints". For everone else, I suggest you do what I did: just grab a map and start exploring. At first you'll find yourself in divisions of the cemetery which are orderly and well-structured. If you come in the main entrance you will want to start with division 4 which has some of the most striking sculpture in the cemetery. But don't miss division 2 just to the right of the entrance: wander around for a few moments and you won't be disappointed. From there just follow your map and head to division 7 and the worlds beyond.

If you come in off of Place Gambetta you will be faced at once with a short street lined with poignant monuments dedicated to the various groups who have fought for France in years past: Czechs, Poles, Armenians, Italians, Russians, located just inside the entrance. But then turn left (from the entrance) down Avenue Circulaire and stroll along and you will soon find (with your map of course) Oscar wilde, Gertrude Stein -- and nearby the enormous statue of General Andranik of Armenia.

A bit further along Avenue Circulaire you will come to the powerful reminders that tens of thousands of Jews died in the Nazi death camps during the Second World War, and the memorials found along this bit of cobblestone are a testament to their memory: Dachau, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck and others, all in or opposite of division 97. Incredible. Nearby you will also see the part of the cemetery wall where some 140 communards were shot in May of 1871 after being chased through the cemetery and cornered here. And almost opposite from the wall is the grave of Laura marx Lafargue, the daughter of, that's rioght, Karl Marx. She and her husband committed suicide. Who knows why.

But eventually you will want yo work your way around to those divisions that beg you to get off the paths, walk around behind the overgrowth, wandering around aimlessly: particularly the areas between Avenue Transversale 1 and Avenue de la Chappelle (divisions 47-55 and 67-71) and then divisions 17-31, 8-13 and 39-40. You'll figure it out.

To help get you started click here to see my favorite spots.

Pere Lachaise introduction

Hours. From 16 March to 5 November the cemetery is open Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm, 8:30am-6pm on Saturdays and 9am-6pm on Sundays; from 6 November to 15 March cemetery hours are Monday-Friday 8am-5:30pm, Saturday 8:30am-5:30pm and Sunday 9am-5:30pm. Free admission. (photo left: detail from the Gibout family gravesite in division 48.)

The Cemetery. Originally the site of a Jesuit hospice, the cemetery eventually passed into the hands of the government and under
Napoleon I was opened as the “Eastern Cemetery” (since it is located in the eastern part of the city) in 1804. It was named after Father (“Pere”) Lachaise, one of the more illustrious of the Jesuits who spent his last years where the chapel now stands and who had been Louis XIV’s confessor. It is sited on a hill overlooking Paris. Commanding some of the finest views of the city, it extends over more than 100 acres making it one of the largest cemeteries in the city. The cemetery is indeed as the Rough Guide notes, “a veritable ‘city of the dead’”, with its cast-iron signposts and cobbled streets. And although much of the northeastern third of the cemetery is laid out in grid pattern, the majority of the cemetery is a series of curving, weaving streets, which seem to go nowhere and yet everywhere.

Getting there. You could drive but then you’d be insane. By bus you can take the nos. 61, 69 or 96 bus By Metro you can take either the number 2 or number 3 lines. (photo left: Guillame Debufe in division 10.)

If you’re on the number 2 you can get off at either Pere Lachaise or Phillipe Auguste; while from the number 3 you can get off at either Pere Lachaise or Gambetta. The Pere Lachaise stop puts you at the northern corner of the cemetery and you can enter directly across from the metro exit – there is also a florist shop right next door selling maps to the cemetery (see below about the maps) and often a man right at the entrance hawking them as well. If you get off at the Phillipe Auguste stop you walk around the corner to your right as you exit the Metro onto Blvd Phillipe Auguste and the main entrance is a just a few meters on your right.

If you take the number 3 to Gambetta look for the Pere Lachaise exit from the underground, and upon surfacing there will be a large sign pointing you right to the cemetery entrance two short blocks away. There are several nice cafes along the way if you need coffee and croissant. I also like to enter from Gambetta since this puts you at the “top” of the cemetery and you can then wend you way down and exit on Blvd de Menilmontant.

There is also a fourth, and more remote entrance at Rue de la Reunion.

Getting around. Finding your way around the cemetery can prove a serious challenge. The cemetery is broken up into nearly 100 divisions, some very large others quite small, some in a neat grid pattern, others that twist and turn, curve and expand and contract on a whim. Although the streets and walkways are well signposted, be aware that there are absolutely no signs directing you to any of the graves so by all means pick up a good map. The cemetery does not provide maps at any of the entrance gates; you have to go to the “conservation” building near the main entrance on Blvd Menilmontant to pick up information and maps. However, the cemetery’s map lacks any real detail to help you wander around this enormous park. So stop at any of the florist shops at the Gambetta entrance or the one next to the small entrance across from the Pere Lachaise Metro stop (€2). As you exit the Pere Lachaise Metro there is a news kiosk that also sells maps (€2.50) (photo above: Croce-Spinelli and Sivel, two balloonists who perished by asphyxiation when the air grew too thin as they cruised over India, in division 71.)

To further complicate matters there are different two maps: the “Editions Vermet”, which is white with large glossy pictures on one side, and which sells for €2 and (€2.50 at the news kiosk); and the “Editions Metropolitain Paris” (€2 ) which I strongly recommend. Unlike the “Vermet” this one gives you a metro map, a brief history of the cemetery (in several languages including English), nice detail, is well laid out and produced and, the clincher, provides far larger number of burial sites. For example, this map actually gives you the niche numbers in the Columbarium whereas “Vermet” does not (with the exception of Maria Callas). Without that information you would spend the rest of your life looking for Richard Wright or Isadora Duncan.

In any case, I strongly urge you to pick up a map before entering the cemetery.

Finding graves in Pere Lachaise can be tricky and certainly a trying experience. If you are just a casual visitor looking for one or two or three graves then by all means rely on the map in your guidebook (assuming you have one of course). The Rough Guide to Paris has a pretty good little map – although even here there is some serious inaccuracies: Eugene Delacroix is listed in Div. 48 (he’s actually in 49), Honore Balzac is listed in 47 (he’s in 48) and Gerard de Nerval is noted in 49 (which is correct) but across from Balzac and not in the “other” division 49. (photo left: Gourlot in division 11; you can also see this stone in the Carnavalet museum as well.)

In all fairness to these small maps that particular part of the cemetery is trying at best. Beautiful to wander in mind you, but very confusing to find your way about if you’re looking for someone in particular (and most people are doing just that).

Online there are a couple of excellent resources: one is Wikipedia, which not only lists alphabetically the major figures buried there (by no means complete though) they also provides you with links to biographies of each person as well. Pretty cool.

There is another site which provides a cool interactive mape of the cemetery. It's extremely slick and very user friendly, allowing you to easily find any one of the gravesites listed on the site. Click here.

I had the good fortune to come into the possession of a wonderful little book Permanent Parisians: An Illustrated Guide to the Cemeteries of Paris (1986), by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall. I first came across these authors when I used their book Permanent Italians. The idea is simple: discover the famous or interesting people buried in a place (such as Paris), locate their graves and write brief biographical sketches to go along with the guide. Maybe not terribly handy when it comes to Jim Morrison or the doors, but Culbertson and Randall also describe some of the more interesting characters (and their monuments) in detail which you would be hard to glean from any other source. The photographs were taken during the fall of the year it would seem, and while a few might be of some help in locating a grave there is really more focus on detail rather than environment. (photo: Pierre Gareau in division 10.)

Given the sheer size of the cemetery the authors suggest four separate tours for Pere Lachaise, and one of my objectives was to tackle them one at a time, but only using them as a sort of general guide to my wanderings. (I'll have more to say later about the details of the tours and be better placed to judge the accuracy of the book.)

Each “tour” presents the reader with a map on which are a series of letters, each letter corresponding to a name in the table using on the facing page, which lists the gravesites to be visited on that tour. This is followed by textual discussion of each gravesite on a division-by-division basis. Pretty straightforward I think. (Although the use of the letter “E” inside a circle threw me at first but I assume it must refer to the starting point for the tour.) One frustrating note though. They occasionally mention someone in their division-by-division discussion who is not listed on their “tour” map, thus requiring the visitor to use both the book and one of the cemetery maps.

In any case, the maps in the book are generally well done, using a series of arrows to direct you from one monument to the next, and with very few errors that I could find. (The most glaring examples are the repeated reference to Avenue St Morys as Avenue St. Marys, and in tour 3 the letter “I” is listed in division 66, although there is no letter “I” noted in the table for that tour nor is division 66 even discussed in the text.) Most importantly, the maps in Permanent Parisians list many of the street names, even some of the smaller “chemin” (path or walkway) names whereas the Editions Vermet does not; Editions Metropolitain also fails to lists names for many of the “chemin” in the area west of the “Grand Rond” and south of Avenue Saint Morys.(photo: no names on these two niches in the columbarium but the message is clear.)

Although printed in 1986 the book is still in print (2006). The book’s design is also handy: it is tall and narrow so it fits neatly into one’s back pocket. As a side note, the authors have also written similar guides to the cemeteries of Italy and London.

A note for serious photographers: because of the foliage and the huge number of tress (more than 6000 reportedly) the lighting in much of the cemetery can be difficult at best, particularly in the summer with many of the divisions being almost completely enclosed by canopy, so be prepared. And I was told by one of the entrance guards that the use of tripods is not permitted in the cemetery -- unless you go to the “conservation” building (the main offices) and register presumably as a professional photographer.

One last thing before you start. There are three WCs, or bathrooms to us Yanks: one as you come in from the Gambetta Metro stop. Make a right as soon you enter the gate and the WCs are about 100 meters on your right. Another WC, but quite rustic is located just to the left as you enter through the main entrance, around the corner and behind the guardhouse. And finally, if you come through the main entrance, walk to the first street on your right, go a short block and on your left you will see the large “Conservation” building (main offices) where you will find bathrooms located at one end of the building, directly across from the entrance to the old Jewish section of the cemetery. The WCs are well signposted. (photo: some things just don't last forever.)

For a large selection of my photos taken during August of 2006 click here.

Next, touring the cemetery.

Practical issues

Details and information on how to get to the various Paris cemeteries and what to do in each one after you arrive will be dealt with when I talk about each individual cemetery. For now let’s just focus on some basic issues:

1. Wear sturdy shoes.
2. Dress appropriately for the weather – although there is plenty of shade in most cemeteries, wear a hat in the hot summer sun.
3. Bring an umbrella.
4. Bring water and a small picnic lunch if you plan to make the cemetery your day trip -- this will be particularly true if you’re visiting Pere Lachaise since it is so huge.
5. Stop at the office – with the exception of Pere Lachaise normally at the main entrance -- and pick up a map. Note that at Pere Lachaise it is strongly recommended that you buy one of the more detailed maps available just outside the entrances: usually at the florist shops or news kiosks (€2).
6. WCs are usually found at the main entrance(s) to the larger cemeteries.
7. Bring a small flashlight – you never know what cool dark places you might want to peek into.
8. Whether you’re bringing digital, video or film, bring extra everything: batteries, film, videotape, and memory cards, whatever.
9. Oh, and speaking of camera gear, leave the tripod at home, at least at Pere Lachaise – it is forbidden to use a tripod in that cemetery (don’t ask me why, ask the French), unless you get permission from the “conservation” building at the main entrance at Blvd. Menilmontant.
10. The cobble stone streets are pretty to look at but can be quite a challenge to walk on for any length of time so try and walk on the side whenever possible.
11. Bring wetwipes.
12. Bring tracing paper and a pencil to help bring out the inscriptions on some of the older stones.

That’s pretty much it – although if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear from you and would happy to include them. (photo above: detail from a monument in division 48 of Pere Lachaise.)

Wish you were here,


Why Paris cemeteries?

My objective here in Paris is to wander amidst the great, near great, obscure and anonymous resting places, hoping to glean a tiny bit of insight into the life, lives and character of the people who are now at rest (or maybe not), capturing my discoveries on digital film. And then to transfer those images to the Internet for all to share and appreciate this truly wonderful garden of imaginative sculpture, wit, humor and the beauty that defines human nature. (photo left: Verazzi family in division 44 of Pere Lachaise cemetery.)

While there are more than a dozen cemeteries in and around historic Paris my work in the next coming months will focus on the three most well-known: Pere Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre. Of course, I also hope to get to the Catacombs, as well as a number of the less frequented places such as La Chapelle Expiatoire and St. Vincent. However, since I prefer cemeteries that are out-of-doors, the sculpture gardens wrapped in history in other words, I will forgo such burial sites inside churches such as St. Denis and St. Germain-des-Pres.

Paris isn’t alone in letting us glimpse such defining moments of human nature, nor is it by any means unique in the pathos, the drama and the revealing sculpture, which can be found in cemeteries around the world. But it happens to be where I am right now.

Wish you were here,