Montparnasse Cemetery and the Catacombes

An interesting day but also a day of of reflection.  I walked to the Gare de l’Est and caught the number 38 bus which took me all the way across Paris to Denfert Rochereau area.  This is a bit past where I go to draw and is the location of the Paris Catacombs.  There was a very long line, down the block and around the corner.  I ask one of the attendants, in French, if the line is better in the afternoon, and he tells me to that 4:00 is good so I decide to go visit the Montparnasse Cemetery first.

It is smaller than Pére Lachaise, where Bob and I visited several years ago, but it is still very large.  I spent a couple of hours just wandering about, taking lots of pictures.  I was hoping for angel pictures but there were very few angel statues.  That kind of surprised me.

imageThe cemetery is such a mix of old and new.  There are lots of the little house like structures that are very old, and sometimes right beside one of these there will be a modern tomb, where someone was very recently buried.

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There was a funeral today, the hearse driving slowly down one of the cemetery roads with a very old man in the passenger seat, and the mourners all walk following the hearse.  I wondered if it was his wife that died?

imageIt actually was the small personal touches that affected me the most.  A group of angel figurines on the tomb of a young boy named Luca who was only here for eight years, and flowers left on a tomb, even though the last person buried there was in the early 1900’s.

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I wonder about the ‘sepultures’, the little houses, some of them are so old that their doors are rusted shut, and the insides have not been cared for in many many years.  Who still has the keys to all these doors?  Does anyone come to visit anymore?  I wonder about the stories behind these tombs.

imageMany of the tombs or sepultures have several people interred in them, quite a few I saw had ten or twelve plaques with names and dates.  These tombs have been in families for hundreds of years.   There is no grass here, the plots are side by side with just enough room to walk between them, just as densely populated as the rest of Paris!  Some of the tombs are so old they have moss growing on the them and their words have been obliterated by time.

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I look for the tombs of some famous people, but no luck other than this one.  I tried to find Brancusi’s but it just wasn’t where it was supposed to be!

I had a bit of a picnic here, some tea and snacks and sat for a little while.  I saw a young man enter the cemetery carrying a big bouquet of white flowers. He stopped to fill a watering can and then headed down one of the cemetery roads.  Was he going to visit the grave of his wife, or mother, or perhaps even a son or daughter?  Seeing him made me feel quite emotional.  Cemeteries tend to put one in a pensive mood.

But then there were the tombstones that made me laugh!

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The only inscription was ” Il fait son choix d’une anchois et dine d’une sardine”. And was signed Berdal.  As near as I can make out, something like ” He made his choice of anchovies and dined on a sardine” The really funny part was when I walked around  to the other side to see if there was anything else written.  What does this look like to you?  I know I have been drawing the nude model a lot, but am I the only one who sees breasts?

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This one was quite strange.

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And then there was this fellow in bed with his wife and child!

I headed over to the Catacombes around three but there was still a long line so I wandered up and down a few streets, just looking at all the shops and people.  I have no urge to actually do any shopping, peering in windows Is quite adequate, at least for now.

I decide to get in line at 4:00, and although the line is considerably shorter than it was at noon it still takes 45 minutes before I am at the entrance.  I chat with a couple of guys from Georgia, who are visiting Paris for a birthday as well, while waiting and the time passes fairly quickly.

It is pretty hard to describe the Catacombes.  After walking down 130 steps and through long galleries I reach the ossuary.

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Although I had seen pictures and read a bit about the Catacombes, they really didn’t prepare me for the actuality of corridor after corridor and room after room of human bones, stacked on all sides, deep beneath the streets of Paris.

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I used a an attendant’s chair to take this photo.

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A barrel shaped pillar made of bones.

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Over 150 cemeteries in Paris and the surrounding areas were emptied and the bones brought here.  At first they were just dumped in huge piles, up to 11 meters high but they were later organized into the displays I saw today.

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There are the bones of over six million people in these catacombes.  I spent almost an hour and a half walking past their remains.  It was impossible to not be deeply affected.  We all die sooner or later, it is one of life’s few certainties. Of course I realize that, but seeing the physical remains of six million individuals was staggering.  I think that is something I kept thinking about, that these are not just piles of bones, they were people with families and they each had a story, a life.  Now they are a tourist attraction.

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Most people were very quiet and respectful but of course there are always some who are not.  I even overheard one girl ask her friend if he had pen as she wanted to write her name on the wall, hard to believe how some people think.  Luckily he didn’t have one, although there was some graffiti written on a few skulls….

On  the way hime saw more metro police.  Not sure if something has been happening.  I didn’t see any of these police the first ten days or so I was here, but have been seeing groups of three or four and up to ten at a time every day since then.

 

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I am really quite tired tonight, both physically and emotionally as well.  I didn’t get home until after 8:00, it was a good day, just a different one.  This ended up being a very long post, but considering I took over 250 photos today it was hard to whittle it down.

imageI also managed to get some drawing done today, I drew people on the metro.  It is a challenge, usually there are just a couple of minutes to try to get them on paper, they are often moving and sometimes my subject gets up and leaves just after I begin to draw!

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7 thoughts on “Montparnasse Cemetery and the Catacombes

  1. I enjoy every post and by now you even dress like a ‘parisienne…’…good for you to enjoy what your passion…Liliane…one of your Mom’s friends…

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    • Glad to hear you are enjoying the posts Liliane. I like looking like a local, sometimes people stop me to ask for directions. Of course, most of the time I am no help at all!

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    • You are welcome. Sometimes they take a bit longer than I anticipate to get posted, the internet is slow, things just disappear, or appear in the wrong places. No idea why, but I enjoy writing them for the most part. The hard part is trying to keep them to a decent length. I can get rather wordy.

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  2. Trudy,
    I hope the catacombs don’t give us nightmares! The one grave with the bird was hilarious and I laughed out loud. Yes, I saw breasts aussi.
    Interesting to see the variety of faces with the glasses, earphones and scarves. Your drawings are so good that we can almost get a glimpse of the personalities behind the faces,
    On my way home tonight I was driving behind a car with an Iowa license plate. There was a French flag and a very large sticker that read “I would rather be in PARIS”!

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  3. Trudy I am so enjoying your wonderful posts and drawings. Especially love the cemetery…one of my loves since I was a little girl. I would go to a small graveyard by the beach cliff, read grave stones and rearrange plastic flowers that had blown across the gravy yard and were stopped by the fence. As you say you can’t help but wonder about the people and their lives. Thank you for taking us to Paris!

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    • Hi Jeanne, I was actually thinking about you earlier today, so it is lovely to gear from you. I can so see you tidying up the cemetery! I love cemeteries too, wish I had time to check out a few more of them but that one will probably have to do. So glad you are enjoying visiting Paris with me!

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