The city's oldest and largest cemetery, Le cimetière des Innocents, opened to the public in the 4th century and by the end of the 18th century reportedly contained the remains of more than 6 million Parisians. Although individual sepulchers were occasionally used, most were buried in large mass graves. (It is reported in a five-week period in 1498 some 50,000 Parisians perished from the plague and were interred in enormous mass graves in Les Innocents.)

Responding to growing concerns about the dangers presented by having the largest cemetery in the city right next door to the largest outdoor food and meat market, in 1786 the French government made the decision to ban any future burials within the center of the city. But they went further. They also decided to close all the existing cemeteries, most of which were connected with the city's churches, and remove all the remains away from the growing urban population.

The remains of more than 6 million Parisians were subsequently removed from the cemetery and along with those of nearly all of the church burial grounds, were removed to an enormous underground warren of tunnels in an old quarry south of the city, and thus were born the Paris catacombs.

As part of the plan to open new cemeteries outside the city proper, in 1804 the government opened Le cimetière d’Est, eventually called by it’s nickname Pere-Lachaise, probably the most famous of Parisian cemeteries. Located on the site of a former Jesuit retreat east of the city, Pere-Lachaise was soon followed by Montparnasse (on the site of a much smaller and older cemetery) in the south, Montmartre to the north and eventually Passy to the east, in the shadow of the Eiffel tower.

Only two outdoor church burying grounds remain today in the 20 arrondisements: Saint-Germain-de-Charonne (Charonne) near Pere-Lachaise and Le cimetière du Calvaire (Calvaire), near Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

Most of the city's cemeteries are close to a Metro stop, and in some case two. Charonne, Picpus, St. Vincent, Auteuil will require at least a 5- or 10-minute walk. There are bus stops at or near virtually every cemetery. And don't even think about parking -- this Partis after all -- and traffic inside the cemeteries is strictly limited.

Nearly every cemetery has one bathroom and Montparnasse has two and Pere-Lachaise three (sort of). Most are in relatively good condition and functional.

With few exceptions the cemeteries are operated and maintained by the city of Paris so opening and closing hours are standardized.

From November 6-March 15:
Mon-Fri: 0800-1730 (8am-5:30pm)
Sat: 0830-1730 (8:30am-5:30pm)
Sun and holidays:0900-1730 (9am-5:30pm)
From March 16-November 5:
Mon-Fri: 0800-1800 (8am-6pm)
Sat: 0830-1800 (8:30am-6pm)
Sun and holidays: 0900-1800 (9am-6pm)

Note that cemeteries, like the parks of Paris are always closed during high wind alerts (falling trees can kill).

At the larger cemeteries there is a conservation office, where you can find detailed information on specific burials. At the smaller cemeteries there is usually just a guard at the entrance. While some English is spoken at the larger cemeteries, Be prepared to ask your questions or make your inquiries in French.

For details about guide maps for Paris cemeteries, view the map information listed on this blog or visit my maps page.

For details about guidebooks on Paris cemeteries, take a look at the books listed on my Guide Books page on this blog or visit my books page.