Cemeteries are cool, they really are, or at least in this part of the world anyway. I am terrible at facing cemeteries back home in Indonesia. Most cemeteries around my city is terribly scary plus the fact that people make up tons of horror stories doesn’t help boost up my confidence either. Cemeteries are not for tourists in my city and probably most cities in Indonesia, except if you are looking for some supernatural forces pointed by some supernatural guide, which is sometimes available, but they are not for me.
The cemeteries in Europe however, gave me such a different view. I remember my days living in Leeds, England. My family lived right next to a cemetery of an old church. The cemetery looked slightly abandoned and I did feel scared at first but I got used to it and enjoyed admiring the lovely tombs. It changed my whole perception on cemeteries. They can be lovely and beautiful.
I have heard of lovely cemeteries in Europe, in Paris especially. So when I got the chance to visit Paris, one of the first things I did was to find the most popular cemeteries and Lonely Planet website pointed out three: Cimetière du Montparnasse, Cimetière du Père Lachaise and Cimetière de Montmartre. I also added one, Les Catacombs, which is technically also a cemetery hidden underground. Although it took me several trips to Paris, I am proud to say that I have been to all four cemeteries.
Step aside Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and mac….OK I’ll let the macarons stay, here are some of the most beautiful places in Paris!
Cimetière du Montparnasse
Coming from Nantes, the train station in Paris I got off was always Gare Montparnasse. Just a few minutes walk from this train station lay a gorgeous cemetery. There is nothing eerie about this place, infact on sunny days, it’s a lovely place filled with bright flowers and cobbled-stones streets.
Cimetière de Montmartre
Just a few blocks from the vibrant Moulin Rouge, there is a huge cemetery. It was so huge that my friend and I had to walk around for over 15 minutes just to find the opening gate, and then found out that there were other doors. We were on a mission to find the tomb of Alexandre Dumas, the French writer. Luckily each of these huge cemeteries in Paris offer a map in which sometimes is written the location of tombs of famous people. I honestly was a little shock that a cemetery had a map, never seen anything like that before, but yes for a cemetery as huge as Montmartre a map is definitely useful.
Since the place was so huge, there were a lot of quiet places which I found a little scary. We finally found Dumas’ tomb and the picture I took was not very good due to the fact I had goosebumps everywhere. We took the picture and ran, then both stared at each other and I was like “did you think it was spooky there”, and my friend nodded. There was just this vibe we both felt, although it was the only time I felt during my cemetery trips thank goodness!
Cimetière du Père Lachaise
Home to many famous people including Jim Morisson, Edith Piaf, Chopin and Oscar Wilde, just to name a few, this is one of my favourite cemeteries. It is also quite big in size, but one of the things that stand out is the artistic tombs. There are just so many interesting tombs, creatively made to suit the person buried underneath.
Some are very modern looking, like one of Oscar Wilde, but some are just pure eerie and bizarre. You’d also find a lot of things people have left in the tomb, such as necklaces and flowers, I even found a page full of formula left for a guy who I presume was a mathematician. A lot of creativity going on at Père Lachaise which is why I’ve been here twice and have not yet seen it all.
All those three cemeteries were all in open space, what about going down below? During the 1700s the municipal of Paris decided to use abandoned stone quarries to place human bones as there was a deficiency of place to bury the dead at that time. Welcomed by the saying Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”), you can truly feel the silent and rather scary atmosphere.
The bones all neatly stacked, skulls on both sides of you, yes it does terrify you a little bit since it’s “all in the open”. However after walking several tunnels, I didn’t feel as scared as I was entering. You do get the sense of being closer to the dead in a way and seeing the bones and skulls made me think that we will all look the same when we’re dead. That kind of terrified me a little.
Cemetery-walking is not for everyone, but I really love the experience of visiting some of the most unique and gorgeous “homes (for the dead)”. It’s a pleasure to do so without feeling scared or having the burden of mystical or supernatural stories (maybe there are but I haven’t heard any, and I really don’t want to!).
Do you do cemetery-walking in your trip? If so, which one do you think you like the most?