Cemetery of the Week #93: Montparnasse Cemetery

The Pigeon family monument, Montparnasse Cemetery

The Pigeon family monument, Montparnasse Cemetery

Cimetière du Montparnasse
aka Montparnasse Cemetery
3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet
Paris, France 75014
Telephone: +33 1 44 10 86 50
Founded: July 25, 1824
Size: 47 acres
Number of interments: more than 300,000 people in more than 35,000 tombs
Open: From March 16 to November 15: Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and holidays: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In the winter, from November 6 to March 15: Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sundays and holidays 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Map: You can request one from any of the guardhouses at the gates or download it here: http://www.pariscemeteries.com/pdf/Plan-sepultures-Montparnasse.pdf

The Mairie de Paris organizes guided tours. For information, call 01 40 33 85 85.

The second municipal cemetery in Paris might be considered a poor sister to larger and grander Pere Lachaise, except that Montparnasse Cemetery is so full of intriguing and beautiful sculpture. Its flat, tree-shaded paths are pleasant to walk in any weather, but now that spring is coming and birds will fill the trees, it will be particularly lovely.

Montparnasse was recognized as an historic monument as early as November 2, 1931. It serves as the final resting place of Guy de Maupassant, whose short story “The Horla” scarred me as a child; composers César Franck and Camille Saint-Saëns, whose Danse Macabre you can hum, and Jean-Paul Sartre, author of No Exit, alongside his companion Simone de Beauvoir, whose book The Second Sex pioneered feminist theory.

Among the joys of Montparnasse are the two life-sized lions snarling atop one grave. A cloaked woman hunches over another monument, her face buried in her hands. Elsewhere, a crusader in armor, draped in a floor-length marble cape, keeps watch. Perched atop a mound of stone clouds, an angel sounds his trumpet directly into another grave. Nearby, a marker bears a deep relief of a shrouded woman, laid out of her bier, clutching her limp infant even in death. On yet another, a nude woman stands in relief, balancing a five-pointed star overhead as she poses before the pyramids of Egypt. A skeletal Death, clutching his scythe, lounges at her feet. By far the strangest monument is a rotund man-sized cat, painted with Op-Art flowers like something out of Yellow Submarine.

A gauze-wrapped corpse lay on the ground beneath one of the cemetery’s wall. Above it, a brooding bust protrudes from a marble slab. When I visited, a single red rosebud, its end wrapped in tinfoil, lay atop the marble corpse. This is the cenotaph in memory of Charles Baudelaire, the author of Les Fleur du Mal. (A cenotaph is a monument to honor a person whose remains lie elsewhere.)

Elsewhere in Montparnasse lies the grave Baudelaire shares with his mother and stepfather. That gravestone’s inscription makes no mention of Baudelaire’s worth as a poet. He died in Paris on August 31, 1867 of syphilis. His mother, who nursed him at the end, said he died with a smile on his lips. That seems unlikely.

Closeup of the Pigeon family monument

Closeup of the Pigeon family monument

Also in Montparnasse stands one of my all-time favorite grave monuments: a life-sized four-poster bed. On the bed lay a man and a woman sculpted in bronze. She sleeps beneath the covers, fully dressed in Victorian finery, complete with a veil. Half out of bed, he wears a coat and tie, boots, and clutches a book in one hand.

Useful links:
A brief history of the area, in English

A whole lot of photographs of monuments in Montparnasse

All the famous French people in Montparnasse

A great video compilation of all Montparnasse’s lovely monuments

Other Parisian cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #10: Pere Lachaise

Cemetery of the Week #19: the Paris Catacombs

Cemetery of the Week #20: Napoleon’s Tomb

3 responses to “Cemetery of the Week #93: Montparnasse Cemetery

  1. Pingback: Cemetery of the Week #151: The French Pantheon | Cemetery Travel: Your Take-along Guide to Graves & Graveyards Around the World

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