Parisian Peace and Quiet: A Cemetery Tour
PHOTO: Pere Lachaise Cemetery. (photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Paris is known for its parks, but there is another way to see the city’s quiet, green side: by strolling its cemeteries.
These burial grounds are on the itinerary for a surprising number of tourists. The most popular Parisian cemetery is probably Pere Lachaise. This is where you can find the tombs of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Chopin. Some people visit to make a kind of pilgrimage, paying homage to their favorite historical figure at his or her gravestone. For others, however, these cemeteries are as much about getting away from the hustle and bustle of Paris as they are about seeing the tombs of famous people.
Montmartre Cemetery is another major burial ground in Paris. It’s the 3rd largest in the city after Lachaise and Montparnasse Cemetery. Even though there are larger and more convenient options (Passy Cemetery is right in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower), Montmartre is quite popular with tourists. Its location, in the heart of the historic and artsy Montmartre area, makes it a popular itinerary addition. The cemetery is so large that, even when lots of tourists decide to go on the same day, it remains pleasantly peaceful.
Escaping from the buzzing streets of Paris
PHOTO: Montmartre Cemetery. (photo via Flickr/Eric Huybrechts)
Montmartre is buzzing with traffic most of the time, so even people who aren’t interested in the tombs will find that the cemetery a nice park alternative. Picnics are not allowed, but photos are. The sculpture and the design of some of the tombs are quite impressive. Tourists can even pick up a map at one of the guard stations and spend a few hours crisscrossing the grounds.
You will find a number of famous people buried in Montmartre. Visitors familiar with French culture and history will recognize the names of many of the tombs. Even sightseers and people who are only there to get away from Montmartre’s rush hour will be familiar with the likes of “Three Musketeers” author Alexandre Dumas, New Wave icon Francois Truffaut and artists such as Degas and Toussaint. The cemetery dates back to 1825, so there is plenty of history to be found.
A taste of Montmartre’s bohemian past
PHOTO: Sculptures at Montmartre Cemetery. (photo via Flickr/HarshLight)
It seems fitting that many artists are buried in Montmartre. The district used to be a haven for creatives and a bastion of the bohemian lifestyle. Many locals and old Paris hands will tell you that Montmartre has become overly touristy and totally gentrified. The artists who now paint in the squares and sell their pictures to tourists can no longer afford to live here because housing prices are so high. If you come here, you will see examples of this gentrification in the prices at cafes and creperies.
At the same time, pricey or not, there is a lot to see. Montmartre is on a hill, so one of the reasons to come here is to enjoy the panoramic views of Paris. The hard-to-miss white-domed Basilica of Sacre-Coeur is a good scenic overlook, as well as a handy landmark. It is visible from all around the district and, as long as you are walking uphill, you will always get to it eventually.
A (in)famous nightlife scene
Montmartre is even more alive at nighttime. The famed Moulin Rouge is located here. A second option, Elysees Montmartre Theatre, is located on the other end of the same street (it will reopen in 2016 after major renovations). Some interesting bars are located along Boulevard de Clichy, as are a number of more risque venues.
Yes, today Montmartre is touristy and crowded, but the cemetery offers a glimpse into the past and a way to get away from the urban setting for a little while.
More by Josh Lew
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