The dead centre of Montmartre

I have a rather morbid fascination for graveyards, so imagine my delight when a Parisian I chatted to on the number 95 bus in Paris recommended a visit to the Cimetière de Montmartre. It was also within walking distance of our apartment, so I was very keen to go there.

Montmartre Cemetery opened in 1825 and covers nearly 25 acres. It was built in the hollow of an old quarry so is below street level, yet, despite having a major road running over the top of it, it is surprisingly peaceful.

2014-06-10 10.55.29The first thing I noticed was the popularity of mausoleums for family interments. A lot of the mausoleums were old and run down and, as it was a wet and dreary day, I felt as though I’d walked onto the set of a Hammer horror movie.2014-06-10 11.35.35

Many famous people have been buried here, but the grave I particularly wanted to see was that of the artist and sculptor Edgar Degas (1834–1917). His final resting place was a modest mausoleum for the ‘Famille De Gas’, featuring a relief sculpture of an artist wearing a beret.

2014-06-10 11.06.28The most flamboyant grave was that of Dalida, consisting of a life sized statue with rays of sunlight radiating around her head. I must confess, I’d never heard of her before, but I later discovered that she was a famous singer who sang in more than ten languages. Originally from Egypt, she’d lived in France since she was 20 years old. Sadly, most of the men in her life had committed suicide, and this tragic diva took her own life on 3 May 1987 at the age of 54.

2014-06-10 11.25.03Among the other graves that caught my eye were: the larger than life-sized statue of a seated nude man that left nothing to the imagination; an all-glass mausoleum (also leaving nothing to the imagination); and the grave of a director with what looked like three promotional photographs and his occupation underneath – was he seeking publicity even after death?

I’d recommend a visit to Montmartre Cemetery for anyone with a passing interest in graveyards, sculpture or history. It’s a fascinating place to while away a few hours and doesn’t cost a penny!

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