Montparnasse Cemetery, the second-largest of Paris’ old garden cemeteries, is just a few minutes walk from Montparnasse Tower. It was a beautiful and sunny when I arrived in the afternoon – not my favourite elements for a photographing a cemetery, but my week in Paris didn’t give me many options. I’ve only been to this cemetery once before, and it was almost instinctual to go immediately to my left where I found my favourite cemetery statue of all time (she’s the main image for this post). Sitting down, head in hands, long flowing hair – there’s something about this statue that just embodies grief to me. Her position between two taller family tombs means that she’s almost always in shadow, which contrasts nicely to the brightness behind her. If I were to ever get a statue for my own grave, however unlikely, it would be something like this one.
After I shot about a roll of film of her, I continued on, exploring the rest of the cemetery. I discovered the smaller section across the road (I missed it the first time I was here) which I think was originally for Jewish burials as they predominate there, but not necessarily anymore. Then it was back to the main section, wandering up and down the paths. The cemetery is quite easy to explore as it is the most “open” of Paris’ cemeteries. The maps are kind of useful in locating certain graves – but they tend to give a general location, rather than specific one. This was a little frustrating for me as I tried to find Man Ray’s grave – I found it the last time by chance, but now that I know more about him and his work, I wanted to see it again…of course, for the life of me, I couldn’t find it. I did manage to find Brassai‘s gravesite, which I missed the first time around, so I guess it works out.
I like this cemetery, but it is far from being a favourite of mine. I guess perhaps because it is so flat and well-maintained it has more of a city park-like atmosphere than the other cemeteries, if that makes any sense. As you may have noticed with this blog, with few exceptions, I like cemeteries where nature has reclaimed part of them for itself.
Quality of Monuments: Good. There are a number of visually-appealing sculptures here, including a life-sized rendition of an older couple in bed. Mostly it’s tombs and headstones. Some of the headstones have interesting relief sculptures on them.
Cemetery Grounds: Large and well-maintained. It’s flat so is easily accessible to all, although if you want to go exploring within the sections you may have to be a bit nimble on your feet. There’s a good map at the entrances, and you can take a laminated one with you as you explore the cemetery.
Visitors: Quite a few. While there were a few mourners, and I think a number of locals who use it as a park to relax in, most of the other people I saw there were tourists chasing down the graves of famous people, such as Beaudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Brassai, Jean-Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag, to name a few.
Photographer notes: It’s a pretty open space so is nice a bright, although of course any statues/reliefs between tombs or walls can get pretty dark. Two famous photographers are buried here (Brassai and Man Ray) as well as the woman who (in)famously wrote about it (Sontag).
Name: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Location: 3, boulevard Edouard Quinet. You can take the metro to Edouard Quinet, Raspail, or Montparnasse Bienvenue.