35 rue de picpus
Metro: nation (closer, LINES 1, 2, 6, 9) or picpus (easier, LINE 6)
Imagine 16 Carmelite nuns, all singing as they're led to the scaffold where, one-by-one, only one is left, still singing as she is led up the steps to the block.
In the summer of 1794 what had been a local neighborhood garden soon became a series of mass gravesfor the hundreds of decapitated bodies from the guillotine that had been set up at Place du Trone-Renverse, today Place de la Nation, just a few short blocks away.
Between June 14 and July 18, 1794, one thousand three hundred and six men and women were executed, as many as 55 a day, the carts trundling back and forth between the place and the gravesite.
Tiny Picpus cemetery, located behind a nondescript entrance along a small out-of-the-way side street in the 12th arrondissement, is one of Paris' most unusual burial grounds.
Today you can still see a small portion of the original wooden fence that had once enclosed the graves, as well as the original entrance for the carts bringing the bodies.
Before leaving step inside the small chapel, you passed it on your way in, and go to the far end, and on either side of the nave are two enormous plaques bearing the names, ages, occupations and date of death for each of the 1,306 people interred in the mass graves. Commoners and nobles alike suffered the same fate and now rest together.
Picpus is unique for another reason, and one which more Americans should be aware of: it is the burial site for General Marquis de Lafayette, one of the true heroes of the American Revolution. In fact, his grave is maintained by the local chapter of the DAR, which has permission by the French government to always fly the American flag.
While Lafayette and his family survived the terror of his country's own revolution, many of his wife's family did not. And since a prerequisite to be buried at Picpus is having a family member perish on the guillotine that cruel summer of 1794, he and his wife rest near the entrance to the mass grave area.
Located at 25 rue de Picpus. As you exit the metro at Place de la Nation you'll be faced with numerous streets radiating out from the place. So to find your way to rue de Picpus, not the Blvd Picpus, take rue Dorian, rue Jaucqourt, or rue Fabre d'Elegantine off the place, turn left onto rue Picpus and then walk down to the entrance, on your left at no. 35.
There is only the one entrance off Rue de Picpus.
The cemetery hours are erratic and often unpredictable. Generally, Picpus is open Tuesday-Sunday, often from 2-6, mid-April to August. From October to mid-April it is open 2-4.
It is closed on holidays, Mondays, and in September, and for the US Fourth of July celebration when there is usually a ceremony featuring the US ambassador.
Tiny conservator's office at the entrance with infrequent hours. Contact phone 01 43 44 18 54 (no guarantees)
Images provided by Steve Soper. All rights reserved.