Montparnasse Cemetery

There are three major cemeteries in Paris (and a few smaller ones on which I have posted like Picpus, Calvaire, Batignolles, Charonne… – and Passy which I have not yet posted about).

Regarding the three bigger ones, I have already posted about the Montmartre and the Père Lachaise cemeteries – the third one is the Montparnasse Cemetery. Since the shutting down of the “Cimetière des Innocents” in 1786 (see previous post), cemeteries were actually banned within Paris and created outside the city limits. However, as Paris got bigger, most of these cemeteries became again part of the Paris landscape. This is also the case for the Montparnasse cemetery which was created in 1824 on farmland. There was even a windmill, which is still there – without its sails.
This is now the second biggest graveyard in Paris (after Père Lachaise). There are some 35.000 tombs and when I started to look for the most interesting ones it was not always easy to find them. However, there are a lot famous people buried here, some names perhaps rather known by French people only: Arago, Bartholdi, Baudelaire, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Alphonse Boudard, Brassaï, Jean Carmet, André Citroën, Jacques Démy, Alfred Dreyfus, Marguerite Duras, César Franck, Charles Garnier, Clara Haskil, Eugène Ionesco, Joseph Kessel, Maurice Leblanc, Pierre Louÿs, Man Ray, de Maupassant, Poincaré, Jean Poiré, Prudhon, Saint-Saëns, Sainte Beuve, J-P Sartre, Claude Sautet, Jean Seberg, Delphine Seyrig, Susan Sontag, Cécile Sorel, Soutine, Tupor, Tzara, Zadkine… I found a few: … and paid special attention to a few other ones, like the one of Serge Gainsbourg - famous poet, composer, singer and Gitanes smoker

… and the one of the sculptor César who made his own tomb decoration.

Some tombs are nicely decorated with fresh flowers, others are abandoned.
Here are some other tombs.One tomb intrigued me. No name, except “Jean-Jacques” and a phrase signed Niki (Saint Phalle). I guessed it, but it took me some time to get it confirmed that the sculpture - see also the top picture - is made by Niki’s husband Jean Tinguely and it's called "Birdman". Niki made another one for her long time assistant, Ricardo (Menon).
This one is also quite different; Charles Pigeon (an inventor), in bed with his wife, fully dressed and with a book in his hands. One last thing: I found the Adams Family grave.

Some of thes pictures can be found on my photo-blog.

Have a nice weekend! See you Monday!


Gare de l'Est

There are today six railway stations in Paris. Some previous ones have been transformed (Gare d’Orsay to a museum), some have disappeared (Gare de la Bastille for the new opera house). I have already made posts about Gare Saint Lazare. Today I will talk about Gare de l’Est, but first some general general points.

Gare de L’Est is only number five, out of the six, in order of number of passengers. It will however probably improve its position as it’s the station for the new high speed lines to the east of France. The “‘LGV Est” is since last year an extension to the high speed train (“TGV”) network in France and Europe. Commercial speed on this line in the direction of Strasbourg (but you can also reach several cities in Germany and Switzerland) is 320 km/hour (200 miles). Strasbourg and Luxemburg can be reached I some two hours. From Gare du Nord you can now reach London in slightly more than two hours and Brussels in about one hour and twenty minutes. From Gare de Lyon you can reach Lyon in two hours and Marseilles in less than three hours. From Gare Montparnasse, Bordeaux (the line is not yet complete) should in a couple of years also be reached in two hours. Gare de l’Est first opened in 1849 (illustration from 1870), but it has been transformed and extended several times between 1885 and 1931 (when it doubled in size). In 1883 the first Orient Express left here for Constantinople. It was also the departure point for all young men who left for the eastern front during WW I and WW II. As mostly with these 19th century stations, the glass roofs and domes are impressive. Here are some of the high speed trains, leaving and at quay. (Richard was onboard one of the trains leaving.) In order to accommodate to an expected increased traffic, large parts of the station have recently been renovated (partly still ongoing) and you can now find a modern commercial centre on two levels. There is a large painting exposed which illustrates the happy and optimistic departure of some young men for WW I.

Some of these pictures can be found on my photo-blog.



Last weekend I had a walk with Alain in the eastern part of Paris. One of the areas we visited is called Charonne. As Belleville and Ménilmontant (see previous posts), Charonne was a village which was incorporated into Paris only in 1860 with then only a few hundred inhabitants. The centre of Charonne still gives the impression of a village. (The streets look a bit empty – it was slightly raining.) The land now occupied by the Père Lachaise cemetery (see previous post) used to be part of Charonne.

Charonne has however another cemetery. The old quite modest parish church, Saint-Germain-de-Charonne, is together with Saint-Pierre-de Montmartre (see previous posts) the only church in Paris with its own graveyard. The church has its origins from the 12th century as does the surrounding cemetery. The church tower was erected during the 15th century and contains a bell from 1606.


The only one left

This is the only one left of this model. The first public street urinals appeared in Paris around 1840. There were some 1200 of them around 1930. They were called “vespasiennes” in “honour” of the Roman emperor Vespasian (9-79) who imposed tax on the public urinals. From him and those days comes also the expression that “money doesn’t stink” (Pecunia non olet).

This one can thus still be found just outside the wall of the Santé Prison. “Santé” means “health” in French, but the prison name comes from the street which leads to a hospital (Sainte Anne). The prison dates from 1867 and is also the only one left inside the Paris borders. I’m ready to make some efforts for my posts, but I entered neither the urinal, nor the prison. Today the “vespasiennes” have been replaced by “sanisettes”, self cleaning, unisex toilets. There are some 400 of them in Paris. All public lavatories in Paris are nowadays free of charge. Nicer, free of charge and public toilets can be found here and there, e.g. in the metro station “Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre”. (Thanks Alain - who gave me the hint when we met during the weekend.) This station is also remarkable for its particular entrance decoration, on which I made a post last year. The nicest public toilet in Paris can however be found close to the Madeleine Church. It was created in 1905, is classified as a historical monument and considered as (one of) the most beautiful public toilet(s) in the world. You can see more details on my post from last year. You can of course also use the toilets of different restaurants and bars, but the quality is varying. My recommendation is to just walk in to one of the better hotels. They have in general excellent rest rooms, also free of charge.


Picpus Cemetery - General Lafayette

There is a small cemetery close to Place de la Nation, the Picpus Cemetery. Few people seem to know about it and it’s not easy to find. (See plan at the bottom of this post.) Its origins are from the Revolution and it’s placed on land which used to be a convent, but had been confiscated during the Revolution and converted into a “House of Health and Detention”.

The guillotine was during the revolutionary years moved from Place de la Concorde first to Place de la Bastille and then to close to Place de la Nation. In a previous post about Place de la Nation I told you about the guillotine which was set up in a corner of what during the Revolution was called “Place de la Trône Renversé” (The Overthrown Throne) – previously “Place de la Trône”. On this photo you can see where it used to stand.

During what was called the “Terror” in 1794 (and until Robespierre was guillotined himself) some 1300 people were guillotined here. They were then brought to a part of the garden of this nearby “House of Health and Detention” and buried in two common pits. The piece of ground was a few years later acquired by a Princess whose relatives were among the buried. On the pictures below you can – in addition to the place of the pits - see the gate through which the victims were carried and also the remaining door opening of what used to be a chapel of the original convent and which was the place where the inventory of the (confiscated) clothes of the victims was then made. In the very beginning of the 19th century more ground was bought by some of the concerned families and the place became a cemetery for some noble families and a new convent and chapel were created with the task to offer peace and comfort to the buried. The cemetery itself is very small, but there is a big garden with - at the moment – a lot of roses. In the modest chapel there is a small sculpture of a 16th century “Vierge de la Paix” (Virgin of Peace) or “Notre Dame de la Paix”, which is said to once have miraculously cured Louis XIV and was the object of great devotion and a symbol of peace. However, “only” 108 of the 1300 guillotined were nobles. Among the victims were also e.g. 16 nuns who were brought to the scaffold together and became beatified in 1906.

The General Lafayette (who was not guillotined and died much later – in 1834) has been buried here (see top picture) together with his wife whose mother and sister were among the victims. Since the very beginning, an American flag has been displayed over his grave (even during the German occupation) and normally there is a ceremony in the presence of the US ambassador every 4th of July.


Villa Seurat

For its particular architecture, 1920 “art moderne” style, I went to see Villa Seurat, a small street in the 14th arrondissement. It was a little bit of a disappointment. Despite the fact that most of the buildings were built during a short period and by renowned architects like André Lurçat and the brothers Perret, there is no homogeneous style and the materials used, as often with this type of building (Le Corbusier, Mallet-Stevens…) don’t resist well – or need very careful, and expensive, maintenance. What is possibly more interesting here is the number of personalities related to this street.

The name of this small street ("villa") comes from the painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891), who (possibly) lived here for a short while – before the present buildings were constructed.

One of the houses was built for the brother of the architect André Lurçat, Jean Lurçat, especially known for his tapestries. Henry Miller lived here (at no. 18), first as a guest of a friend (1931), behind the three windows you can see here. This is where he started to write “Tropic of Cancer”. He later moved in more permanently on a higher floor (1934-39), where he part of the time shared the flat with Anaïs Nin, another erotic author. It seems that Salvador Dali (with Gala) also lived in this house for a short period in the 30’s.
Villa Seurat is a small side street to Rue de la Tombe-Issoire, which during the Roman times was the main road from the south to the centre of Lutèce (Paris). The name of the street in translation is “the tomb of Issoire”. There was a medieval tale that a giant, named Isoré, killed pilgrims who took this road on their way to Santiago de Compostella. He was finally killed, but he was so big that he had to be buried here. You can find a modern and very kind version of the giant on the front of a school building.

… and under our feet are the catacombs.

It's Friday again... I wish you a nice weekend!


Parc Montsouris

I’m afraid I will once again talk about a park, but the nice spring (early summer) weather we have had - and are slowly getting back – promotes park visits. Also, the vegetation is now fresh and green. This time we will visit Parc Montsouris. The park is the immediate neighbour of the University Campus (Cité Internationale Universitaire) I posted about a few days ago. Although students have a lot of space within the campus, they also have the advantage of this park.

You may be surprised by the number of green areas in Paris – more than 400 parks, gardens and squares, many of them created rather recently; they actually cover some 20% of the total city surface, meaning that Paris seems to be the greenest capital in Europe.

Parc Montsouris was created during the latter part of the 19th century, chiefly by Baron Haussmann, and is basically of an English Garden type as most of the Paris parks from that period. A lot of new parks have recently been created in Paris, but the nice thing with these older parks is that they are “mature”. It takes some time for trees and bushes to grow to an adult stage.
One detail: In the southern part of the park you may find a “mire”, placed on the Paris Prime Meridian (the “Rose Line”) to which I have referred in several posts.

The park is full of statues…… flowers… … and of course the usual installations for kids (including again a Guignol – puppet show - theatre), for drinking and eating.

You can find some of these pictures on my photo-blog.