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After peeking through the stunning bronze doors on a visit to Montmartre, I knew I wanted to visit La Cimetière du Calvaire. Harboured in the shadow of Saint Pierre de Montmartre and Sacré Coeur this tiny cemetery holds a certain allure. Perhaps for the curious traveller, it is the fact that La Cimetière du Calvaire is only open once a year on November 1st, Toussaint (All Saint’s Day).
After waiting several years due to COVID restrictions, the doors to the Cimetière du Calvaire opened on November 1, 2022. I knew I was going to visit, rain or shine!
Here are 7 things to know before visiting the Calvaire Cemetery:
1. How To Visit The Cimetière du Calvaire
Head to the church, Saint Pierre de Montmartre, and just to the left you’ll notice the large bronze doors. On November 1st, there is a lineup to enter but it moves quite quickly. Mid-morning, we waited just 15 minutes to enter. Small tours of ten people move through the graveyard on guided tours which are only in French.
If you want a chance to take lots of photos in the Cimetière du Calvaire, it is a good idea to wander off from the guide as at the end of the tour there is no time to return to a tombstone for a better angle or improved light.
Is it worth going if you don’t speak French? If you are a curious traveller, I say “yes.” You’ll be exploring old, cracked tombs in Paris’s oldest and smallest cemetery.
2. Stepping Into History
The Cimetière du Calvaire opened in 1688 alongside the Montmartre Abbey making it the oldest cemetery in Paris.
You’ll find it tucked in beside one of the most ancient churches in Paris, Saint Pierre de Montmartre which dates from the beginning of the 12th century. For more than 600 years Saint Pierre de Montmartre was a centre of pilgrimage acting as both a parish church and part of the Abbey of the Benedictine Sisters of Montmartre. It is the only vestige of the ancient abbey that exists today.
During the French Revolution, the Abbey and the Cemetery were badly damaged and the cemetery was closed. It reopened in 1801 but when the Cimetière Saint-Vincent opened in Montmartre in 1823, the Cimetière du Calvaire was closed once and for all.
3. Who’s Who In The Calvaire Cemetery
There are 85 tombs in the Cimetière du Calvaire. Historically, the aristocratic families of Montmartre en-bas (the 9th arrondissement) were buried here. There are also some tombs of residents of Montmartre en-haut.
Only the descendants of those families buried here may be interred today.
Here are a few tombs to look for:
The Debray Family
Look for the tiny windmill sitting atop the tomb of the Debray family. Prominent millers in Montmartre, the Debray family owned the Moulin de la Galette which became immortalized in paintings by Renoir, van Gogh, and Pissarro. It was a fun gathering place for Parisians who would come for galettes and dancing.
Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811)
A stone column marks the spot reminding us of the famous French navigator, explorer, and botanist who circumnavigated the world from 1766 to 1769. His heart is buried here in the Cimetière du Calvaire while his body is interred at the Panthéon.
Félix Desportes (1763-1849)
An engraved column marks the resting place of the first mayor of Montmartre elected by the people in 1790 at 27 years old.
Soldiers From the Battle of Paris 1814
The Battle of Paris saw heavy fighting between the forces of Russia, Prussia, and Austria against the French Empire at the end of Napoleon’s reign. The Cemetery of Calvaire has a common grave for soldiers who fell during the battle.
There are priests, surgeons, and admirals all buried here. Along with Montesquious and the Duc du Crillon whose home became a luxury hotel in Paris. Check out a full list of who is buried in the Cimetière du Calvaire.
4. The Magnificent Bronze Doors
The magnificent bronze doors were created in 1980 by the Italian artist and sculptor Tomasso Gismondi (1906 – 2003) and his daughter Donatella. Gismondi is well-known for having sculpted the Vatican Library doors and the doors to the Secret Vatican Archive. Stand before his glorious doors at the entrance to the Cimetière du Calvaire and examine the Resurrection he has portrayed. If the Calvaire Cemetery is not open, peer through one of the openings in the sculpted doors to get a glimpse of what lies behind.
5. The Experience of Visiting the Cimetière du Calvaire
It feels exclusive. It feels special. Those bronze doors are rarely opened. On Toussaint, the bells of Sacré Coeur were pealing for a solid ten minutes as we stood in the tiny, ancient cemetery. Standing amidst the moss-covered tombs, on uneven ground, amidst the overgrown shrubs, with the bells tolling made the most memorable of moments.
6. And After The Visit
After visiting the Cimetière du Calvaire wander through the small church, Saint Pierre de Montmartre.
If you are in the mood for more cemetery wandering, the Cimetière Saint-Vincent is close by. The Montmartre cemetery with all its resident cats is not too far away either.
7. How To Get To The Cimetière du Calvaire
The Calvaire Cemetery is located at 2 rue du Mont-Cenis in Montmartre, the 18th arrondissment of Paris.
By Métro: Line 12 to Abbesses
By Bus: Bus #40 will drop you at Place du Tertre
I hope you enjoy visiting the Cimetière du Calvaire as much as I did.
Until next time,
More Paris Info…
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La Butte aux Cailles, tucked away in the 13th arrondissement, is another place in Paris that has retained its village-like charm. My article on La Butte aux Cailles will lead you to discover some of the area and its visually enticing street art.
Canal Saint-Martin is another place full of small restaurants, boutiques and plenty of character. Stroll the bridges of the canal under the chestnut trees and feel like a true Parisian. All the details on this “bobo” district are in this article on Canal Saint-Martin.
Here are all the things to do on Ile Saint-Louis, one of the oldest villages in Paris.
And don’t forget that the 7th arrondissement has lots to see and do once you have seen the Eiffel Tower.
Other Paris and France Travel Tips:
Travelling to Paris alone? This article on navigating Paris alone is full of tips and tricks for the solo traveller.
This page has all my articles on Paris that will help you plan out your trip, including day trips from Paris. I hope you subscribed to my newsletter to get my free download – An Amazing 2-day Itinerary in Paris.