In Bed at Montparnasse Cemetery

Gravesite of famille Pigeon, Cimitière Montparnasse

On my very first trip to Paris, I was based in the Montparnasse quartier. I’m currently working on a memoir chapter about that time of my life, which has prompted me to post about a few places Clive and I have explored in Montparnasse.

This area on the Left Bank is well-known for its history as a 20th-century centre of artistic and intellectual life in Paris. The Cimitière Montparnasse, Montparnasse Cemetery, is also part of the neighbourhood.

Walking in Cemeteries

Cimitière Montparnasse

While we don’t always seek out cemeteries as specific destinations (though sometimes we do), we’ve discovered they can be fascinating places to visit during one’s travels. We always learn something, whether from seeing interesting names that prompt us to look up historical facts when we get home or finding a bench on which to sit for a few peaceful minutes and have a coffee from our trusty Thermos. Once in a while, such as on the Great Orme in Wales, we eat our picnic lunch in a cemetery.

Paris offers a number of noteworthy cemeteries, including Père Lachaise, Montmartre, and Passy (smaller than the others, tucked away at Trocadéro, across from the Eiffel Tower), in addition to this one in Montparnasse.

Cimitière Montparnasse

Located on Boulevard Edgar Quinet, Cimitière Montparnasse opened in 1824. According to the official Paris site, its 19 hectares contain the remains of an astonishing number of people: 300,000 (yes, three hundred thousand), with 1,000 burials annually.

The numbers amazed us; compared to Père Lachaise, the cemetery doesn’t feel nearly that big when you’re walking through it.

Roadway and trees in Cimitière Montparnasse

You can pick up a free map at the entrance, and, as with the other Paris cemeteries, marvel at a long list of names famous and not-so-famous. The Montparnasse cemetery includes the final resting places of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, and the joint grave of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Le Roi des Poètes – the King of Poets

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Grave of Charles Baudelaire (right-hand side), Montparnasse Cemetery

I wanted to find the gravesite of Charles Baudelaire, a poet whose work I studied in a French literature course at university. I took many notes as our professor passionately declared him le Roi des poètes, the King of poets, and that apt description has stayed with me ever since.
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Something about standing beside his simple gravestone moved me – that I was near the places where he lived, wrote, and died.

In another part of the cemetery, we found the Cénotaphe Baudelaire, a small monument to the great poet.

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On a somewhat different level, we discovered the gravesite of Serge Gainsbourg, an at-times controversial French musician, whose rather explicit song ‘Je t’aime’, sung with Jane Birkin, we both happen to like.

Gainsbourg’s gravesite has much the same feel as that of Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise, of being a kind of pilgrimage destination at which many objects are left behind, ranging from photographs to flowers to used métro tickets.

Serge Gainsbourg’s gravesite in Montparnasse

A Unique Gravesite

Mme. et M. Pigeon

The biggest surprise of the day was the Pigeon family gravesite. A quick Internet search later revealed Charles Pigeon, who died in 1915, was the inventor of the first ‘non-exploding gas lamp’. Apparently, before this time, many lamps regularly exploded because they were flammable. Monsieur Pigeon presented his non-exploding lamp at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, and it brought him both wealth and fame.
As for the gravesite, he and his wife are in bed but clothed, him in a business suit and her in a dress. Above them, an angel holds – what else but – a Pigeon Lamp. We’re not experts on tombstones, but felt this one must surely be unique.

Once again, we were amazed at what you can learn by strolling around a cemetery. After visiting this one, you can return to today’s world by stepping outside the gates, walking a short block or two down rue Delambre, and enjoying one of the famous cafés frequented by Hemingway, Picasso, and many others in Montparnasse.

Cafés in Montparnasse

Cheers and my next post will be about one of the best views of Paris, from this quartier.


8 Responses

  1. Hi Carolyn.. I have been round there twice, first was a fleeting visit, then went on my own. I have never thought about walking around a cemetary before, a lovely stroll though. 🙂

    Love to you both.

  2. Nice to read about Montparnasse as we stayed there on this most recent visit before taking the TGV to the Loire and then returning to Paris in the 2e for two weeks. Nadege, a regular reader suggested we read your blog, very enjoyable. Thankyou.

  3. Anne, great you’ve been in the area!

    Leon, welcome and thanks for your comment (and thank you, Nadege, for the connection). Two weeks in the 2e sounds wonderful.

    Cheers and happy travels (even if you don’t see a bizarre gravesite …)

  4. I’ve been in that cemetery several times but never saw that bed. I’ve got to return and see if I can find it.

  5. I’ve been to Père Lachaise bunches of times now, and not yet made it to Cimitière Montparnasse, but you remind me I really want to go there. I love the photos you captured, and the descriptions to go along with the select folks who are interred there.

    I don’t know the last time that Paul was there. Methinks I will try to convince him a visit is in order soon!

    Thank you, Carolyn!

  6. Linda, it’s quite a surprise if and when you come upon it!

    Karin, thanks for the lovely comment — it’s an easy place to walk around!


  7. Thanks for the insight about the Pigeons! The photography is beautiful and really makes me want to pay the cemetery a visit.

    On a more personal note, I’m relieved to hear my family aren’t the only ones who like to picnic in a graveyard!

    Paris Paul

  8. Paul, hello and thanks so much for your kind comment.

    Maybe you and Karin will get to this cemetery (with or without picnic food!?) one day. It seems Paris has quite a few interesting cemeteries.

    Cheers and enjoy!

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