Cemeteries worth a visit (this month, France)

This item appears on page 36 of the November 2015 issue.

(Part 2 in a series)

Cemeteries worth a visit

Liz and Jack Kaufman of Lake Quivira, Kansas, wrote, “We have visited cemeteries all around the world. The best ones combine history with beautiful gardens and superb architecture… . We would like to read travelers’ recommendations for cemeteries to visit.”

So we asked subscribers, “Tell us about an interesting, special, elegant, historic or quirky cemetery that you visited outside of the US in the past few years. Tell us its name, where it is located, approximately when you were there and what most impressed you about it… . Describe the terrain, foliage or atmosphere. What was visible or audible around the cemetery? Were there certain days or dates when a visit was or was not recommended? What etiquette should someone follow when visiting a cemetery in a particular country?

Last month we printed responses about cemeteries in England, Ireland and Sweden. In this issue the locations are in FRANCE, with more countries to be covered in months to come. Have info to contribute? Email editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Cemeteries Worth a Visit, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Include your subscription address at which you receive ITN. Photos are welcome; include captions, please.


I have been traveling for many years and always try to visit a cemetery on each trip. I have a degree in art history, so I’m particularly interested in people’s artistic expressions of their cultures and countries.

I visited Cimetière du Montparnasse (3, boulevard Edgar Quinet, Paris, FRANCE; phone +33 1 44 10 86 50) in April 2007. Originally located outside of Paris, this cemetery opened in 1824.

Many famous French natives are buried there, including Guy de Maupassant, André Citroën, Alfred Dreyfus, Camille Saint-Saëns and Henri Laurens.

The tomb of Édouard Manet in Cimetière de Passy, Paris. Photo by James F. Olander<br />

Cemeteries, while there often is chaotic, nerve-wracking noise all around, offer a quiet refuge. It’s also worth visiting them to see flowers, real or plastic. Offerings are another interesting aspect of cemeteries.

Many cemeteries offer tours by volunteers and staff. I would suggest joining a group, as the tour leaders always have lots to share.

[The Cimetière du Montparnasse is open daily, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. — Editor]

Lyn Scanlon, Naples, FL 


In Paris, the small Cimetière de Passy (2 rue de-Commandant-Schloesing, Paris; phone +33 1 53 70 40 80) can be reached from the Trocadero Métro stop near the Palais de Chaillot. 

Buried there are the composers Claude Debussy and Gabriel Fauré and painters Édouard Manet and his sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot.  

An interesting memorial to the family of Baron Pierre de Perényi has a marble carving of Michelangelo’s “Pietà” encased in a glass covering. 

Some of the background views include the nearby Eiffel Tower. 

• Cimetière du Montparnasse (3, boulevard Edgar Quinet), the second-largest cemetery in Paris, was originally established outside the city limits. Now the Montparnasse Bienvenue Métro station is nearby.

I found it difficult to find specific graves in this cemetery. They have free printed cemetery plans but were out of them during my visit. 

This is a pleasant place just to wander through and get away from the noise of the Montparnasse area. The poet Charles Baudelaire is buried there; his name is listed on the Jacques Aupick family tomb. 

The most striking tomb is the one for the Charles Pigeon family. It was designed as a giant four-poster bed with a lady asleep next to a fully dressed man holding a book. An angel is standing above holding a light. 

I visited both cemeteries in 2010.

[The Passy and Montparnasse cemeteries are open daily, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.]

James F. Olander
Arlington, VA


While exploring Paris in September 2014, my husband, Ray, and I visited Cimetière du Montparnasse. 

We normally don’t visit cemeteries, but this one’s unusual monuments, depicted in the “DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris,” piqued our curiosity. Established on a farm in 1824, the 46-acre cemetery houses an eclectic assortment of monuments for 300,000 people, with an additional 1,000 interred each year. 

We stayed at Hôtel Concorde Montparnasse (40, rue du Commandant René Mouchotte; www.montparnasse.concorde-hotels.com), conveniently located near the Air France airport-bus stop, Gare (train station) Montparnasse and the Montparnasse Bienvenüe Métro station.

From our hotel, we walked 15 minutes to a corner entrance of the cemetery. The main entrance is at 3 boulevard Edgar Quinet, near the Raspail and Edgar Quinet Métro stations. The cemetery is walled into two sections separated by a street, rue de Émile-Richard, making the smaller section more difficult to access. 

While many of the monuments feature traditional crosses, angels and plaques, many reflect the personalities of the Left Bank intellectuals, artists and notables interred. 

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir share a relatively simple tomb, while a bust of Pierre Larousse overlooks his own. In contrast, the tomb of Henri Laurens is decorated by a cubist sculpture. 

Although poet Charles Baudelaire is buried with his stepfamily, his cenotaph, resembling Rodin’s “The Thinker,” depicts him in serious contemplation.

“The Kiss,” sculpted by Constantin Brâncusi, sits on the tomb of Tania Rachevskaia, a young woman who committed suicide over an unhappy love affair in 1908.  

The tomb of Frédéric Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, is crowned by an angel reaching for the sky. 

Most memorable is the Charles Pigeon family tomb. It depicts the inventor of nonexploding gas lamps lying, under the light of a gas lamp, in a full-size bed of marble and stone with his wife. 

One that caused us serious pause was the simple monument reading “À ma famille Dickerman, exterminée à Auschwitz-Birkenau” (“To my family Dickerman, exterminated at Auschwitz-Birkenau”), followed by the individuals’ names, each having the dates ending with “1942.” 

The cemetery also recognizes Parisian police and firefighters killed in the line of duty as well as other defenders of Paris in wartimes. 

Our visit to Cimetière du Montparnasse was like visiting a huge sculpture garden with heart. We allocated a couple of hours for our visit but needed days.

Wanda Bahde, Summerfield, FL 


The Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (16 rue du Repos, Paris; phone +33 55 25 82 10) harbors the graves of a number of famous Parisians who were authors or artists, such as the French authoress Colette. Non-Frenchmen are buried there as well, including Oscar Wilde. 

The various tombs are located in small structures neatly touching each other and arranged on streets much like those of a small town. There were lots of them in, I would guesstimate, at least 10 blocks. 

The day I was there, about eight years ago, it rained and rained, never stopping. Some of the beauty of the place was probably effaced due to the weather. 

It was located in a substantial residential area with some bars nearby, one of which I dried off in after the adventure.

[Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is open daily, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.]

Philip H. De Turk
Pinehurst, NC


Among our favorite cemeteries are two in FRANCE that we visited in September 2013.

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, in Paris, is a top tourist attraction. Lying along a gentle hillside, it has a multitude of shade trees in dozens of varieties along winding paths with designated “street” names. There are elaborate sepulchres and tombs, in addition to monuments to victims of the Holocaust. 

The Pigeon family tomb features the inventor in bed with his wife — Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. Photo by Wanda Bahde

Many prominent and historical figures are interred there, including Chopin, Proust, Molière and Oscar Wilde. Especially touching is the tomb for the famous lovers Abelard and Héloïse.* 

The cemetery is located in the 20th Arrondissement and can be reached by several Métro lines and a bus line, clearly marked on all transportation maps. 

Even though there is a large-scale map of the cemetery posted at the principal entrance, it is best to pay a nominal fee to purchase a more detailed map from a kiosk near the cemetery, as the paths can be confusing and it is easy to get lost.

• The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial (14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, France; phone +33 2 31 51 62 00)** is located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the landing beaches of WWII’s Battle of Normandy) and the English Channel. 

The grounds are immaculate. The rows upon rows of crosses and Stars of David will bring tears to the eyes of American visitors, especially those who served in the military or members of their families. 

In a wooded area adjacent to the cemetery is an impressive visitors’ center that outlines the essential facts of the D-Day invasion through a variety of devices — maps and films plus the testimonies of those who participated. 

Statements by French citizens who supported the invasion and those who suffered through the German occupation and the liberation add a lot of context to the significance of the invasion, which is not common, because seldom do war museums give the civilian side of the story. 

Located near the small community of Colleville-sur-Mer and well marked on road maps, the cemetery is easy to reach by car from Bayeux (famous for its tapestry portraying the Norman conquest of England) and many cities near the Normandy coastline, and there is ample parking.

[Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial is open daily, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., April 15-Sept. 15, and 9-5, Sept. 16-April 14.]

Jack & Liz Kaufman
Lake Quivira, KS

*Whether or not the bodies of Abelard and Héloïse are actually interred in Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is disputed.

**The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial is maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission (www.abmc.gov), as are other US military cemeteries around the world.


One of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe is the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, located in the Normandy region of northern FRANCE. It’s an awesome and spellbinding experience to stand in the middle of the cemetery and look north, east, south and west.

My life partner, Phil, and I were on a group tour in June 2004, and our scheduled visit to the cemetery was canceled because President George W. Bush was attending a service there commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The next day, an hour before the scheduled closing time, groundskeepers were gracious enough to open the gates and let us have a private walking tour. 

What struck me as unusual at this cemetery, and also at the Andersonville (Georgia), Fredericksburg (Virginia) and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) national cemeteries, was that people left money (change) on top of the headstones.

Charlotte Kuropatwa
Venice, FL


In May-June 2014 we had the privilege of being in FRANCE for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial, located in Colleville-sur-Mer on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel, is a historic cemetery. 

More than 9,000 American men and women are buried there. In addition, the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the Normandy campaign but could not be located or identified are inscribed on the wall of the garden.  

• Before we went to Normandy, we went to the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, which is where Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, are buried. The village is about 20 miles northwest of Paris and can be reached by train. 

To get to the cemetery, take the van Gogh walking trail, following posters marking the places he painted. Up the hill and behind the village church, you will see a path that takes you into the heart of the wheat fields. 

In May, there was an array of colors; the young green wheat and the red poppies peppered the landscape. You can see why van Gogh was inspired to paint there. 

The cemetery is visible from the crossroads, and, once inside, his grave and his brother’s grave are easy to find, nestled against a side wall.

Marcia Weinick
Boynton Beach, FL


It has been almost 25 years since I visited the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, but it is a very lasting memory.

After touring the beaches of Normandy, our tour group visited the cemetery. There are 9,387 American servicemen and servicewomen buried there. 

It was a very emotional experience to see the massive numbers of graves. There was not a dry eye among us.

Frances Symons
San Diego, CA

Next month, notable cemeteries in Switzerland, Germany and Italy.