You’d be forgiven for spending years in Paris and never visiting the Picpus neighbourhood. The 12th is a sleepy arrondissement as it is, and Picpus is several metro stops away from its busiest centres of Nation and the Gare de Lyon. In fact, I only ever went there to visit my dear friend, Patricia Parisienne, who lived in a tiny chambre de bonne apartment there which we called ‘the tree house’. Since Tricia departed the tree house many years back, I’ve only been back to Picpus once, to visit a tiny, hidden cemetery that feels like a slice of 19th-century Normandy: le Cimetière de Picpus.
The Cimetière de Picpus is not a tourist destination, and you won’t be able to rely on signs from the Picpus metro to get there. It’s not like the Cimetières du Père-Lachaise, de Montparnasse or de Montmartre, which draw visitors for contemplative strolls around historic sites. When I was searching for it, I only realised I was lost when I knocked on what I thought was the right door and was greeted by a very confused nun from a neighbouring convent. But if you follow your phone’s GPS, you’ll eventually come upon an unassuming entrance, with a path leading past a gatehouse with blue shutters that looks like it belongs on a farm in the countryside.
Past the misplaced farmhouse lies one of the quietest and least known places of rest in Paris. The graves are interspersed among oak and plane trees, the space surrounded by high, old stone walls. Established in 1794, the site is home to several communal graves of victims of la Terreur, their sobering markers dispersed among the greenery.
Here also lies the Marquis de Lafayette, the famous 18th-century French-American diplomat known for his contributions to the American Revolutionary War, and Lafayette’s grave is one of the main reasons people visit (many of them American).
But Picpus is special whether a famous man lies there or not. Stunning as it is, Paris can be overwhelming and fast-paced. Even the other cemeteries can feel very public and touristy. In one of the sleepiest quarters of one of the sleepiest arrondissements, the Cimetière de Picpus offers a secluded moment of repose. Much like a tree house, high up in a forest.
Xx la Muséophile
Monday to Saturday 2pm to 5pm, full fare 2€
Closed Sundays and public holidays