guidebooks to paris cemeteries

Although the cemeteries of Paris are some of the most visited sites in the city -- more than a 2 million tourists visit Père-Lachaise each year alone -- there are very few dedicated cemetery guidebooks in English and one of those (Permanent Parisians) is terribly outdated. 

To help fill this gap I have published a series of Guides to the Art in Paris Cemeteries:  Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre (available on Amazon). 

Designed primarily for art historians, art students and photographers these reference guides will help you locate and identify more than 2,700 works of art in three of the most beautiful outdoor museums in Paris: Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre Cemeteries.

Probably the best general guide in English to the cemeteries of Paris is Doug Keister's Stories in Stone: Paris (Gibbs Smith 2013). It's packed full of handy information, fascinating stories and a wealth of detail neatly arranged and easy to use. He has also put Parisian burial practices in perspective with his seminal work on funeral symbology -- a nice addition as well.

Relying on the expertise and invaluable assistance of local Paris cemetery expert Marie Beleyme, Keister's latest guide provides the traveler with an easy-to-use guide to the major Paris cemeteries. While one hopes to eventually see separate English-language guides to the Paris Big Three (Père-Lachaise, Montparnasse and Montmartre), for the time being this work must be the English-language resource of record.

Garden of Stone: A Guide to 101 Incredible Sculptures in Père-Lachaise Cemetery (2012) by Steve Soper. A collection of photos of 101 of my favorite pieces of sculpture designed to inspire and tempt the photographer. Arranged by division, the location of each sculpture is also identified on a handy map. Also available as an eBook. Purchase a copy here.

Père-Lachaise: Elysium as Real Estate (1973) by Frederick Brown. The only other notable book in English on Paris cemeteries in English, it is not in fact a guidebook as such but nevertheless a fascinating intellectual study of Père-Lachaise Cemetery. It is quite dated and out of print. Purchase a used copy on amazon.

Permanent Parisians (1986, 1991) by Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall is one of two English-language-only guide devoted solely to Paris cemeteries. Sadly, not only is this guide out of print and out of date but contains a surprising number of inaccuracies. (If you want to know more, see my review of Permanent Parisians on amazon.com.)

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography (2004) by Douglas Keister. If you're curious about the meanings (hidden and otherwise) of the symbols and signs used in funerary sculpture and architecture around the western world I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Douglas Keister's perceptive study. His narrative is lucid and fascinating, and his large and stunning collection of photos span cemeteries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Architecture of Death: The Transformation of the Cemetery in Eighteenth-Century Paris (1987) by Richard Etlin. Also out-of-print, this masterful look at the evolution of the "pastoral" concept underlying present Paris cemeteries is truly impressive. He has also brought together in one place a fantastic collection of incredible prints and illustrations.

Unexplored Paris (2009) by Rodolphe Troulleux and Jacques Lebar. While not a cemetery guide per se, this is a wonderful book nevertheless. Aside from a unique and insightful peek into those sights of Paris often missed by the harried tourist, this little book, long available only in French, points to some of the more interesting funeral things to see in the city. Index arranged by arrondissement only so you have to search around a bit.

In French only:

Au Père-Lachaise: Son Histoire, ses secrets, ses promenades, nouvelle edition (2007) by Michel Dansel is solely anecdotal. No photos and no maps but lots of text.

Cimetières de Paris (2010) by Fabrice de Routou and Charles-Edouard Gambier.

Guide des Cimetières Parisiens (1990) by Jacques Barozzi. Dated and with an occasional inaccuracy, still this is a reasonably good overview of the major cemeteries in Paris. Arranged by cemetery and then division, with listings and information on notable burials; photos and maps for each cemetery discussed. Index of names.

Guide des Curiosités Funéraires à Paris (2008) by Anne-Marie Minvielle. Subtitled "Cimetieres, Eglises et Lieux de Memoire," this is another handy little volume to stuff in your bag. Arranged by arrondissement you can either plunge right in or check out the handy little table of contents at the front of the book for a more detailed itinerary. Very nice photographs (Minvielle is a professional photographer as well as a journalist) and well-executed maps. With appendices (annexes) that include a glossary of terms, a bibliography and glory be! an index of tombs listed in the book. How cool is that?!

Guide des tombe d'hommes celebres (2003, 2008) by Bertrand Beyern. A singularly unique source of the most exhaustive listing of notable and near-notable burials not just in Paris but throughout all of France. He also provides excellent maps of the city's major cemeteries. Very easy to use with a superb index.

Le cimetière du Père-Lachaise (2007) by Valverde and Hughes. This is perhaps the best guide to Père-Lachaise available today.  Outstanding photographs, up-to-date, with superb maps of the cemetery, this is one book you will want to have in hand if you plan to undertake a serious exploration of Père-Lachaise.

Le Cimetière Montparnasse (2009) by Marie-Laure Pierard. Frankly I don't care much for how this book is arranged or the map included, but it is the only contemporary guide to Montparnasse, a cemetery worth a long stroll if not a lengthy visit in its own right.

Although ostensibly arranged by division, for some odd reason the author jumps around in her discussion of the notable burials in each division. Also, the map is a poor reprint of the official cemetery map and not terribly useful at that. The index lists only the division number and not the page, which I find a bit awkward.

Les lieux de culte au cimetiére du Père-Lachaise (1999) by Michel Dansel. Not really a guide to the cemetery, this is a collection of short, anecdotal biographies of some of the more notable burials in Père-Lachaise. If your French is up to it you may find this interesting and perhaps even informative. Purchase a copy on amazon.

Le Père-Lachaise: Au coeur du Paris des vivant et des morts (2003) by Christian Charlet.

Le Père-Lachaise: Guide du Flaneur (2006) by France Raimbault has a nice set of itineraries as well as handy maps. Many of the photos are reprints of old postcards of Père-Lachaise. Very nice presentation of the material.

Nous irons chanter sur vos tombes (1999) by Danielle Tartakowsky. A professor at the University of Paris, Tartakowsky takes a close look at the relationship between the modern history of Paris and Père-Lachaise Cemetery. Purchase a copy on amazon.

Paris Mortel: Les tombes racontent l'Histoire (2012) by Helene Hatte andValerie Rialland-Addach.

Paris Secret (2010) by Guides Gallimard. This fascinating guide of Paris is filled with cutaways, illustrations, old photos and a handy map to help the reader grasp a lot of what we don't see about the city of light. This easy-to-carry book will give you plenty of ideas for exploring Paris cemeteries, the Catacombes and much, much more. Purchase a copy on amazon.

Secrets des Cimetières de Paris (2012) by Jacques Barozzo and Bernard Ladoux.