Grave Ramblings: Dark Tourism and the Cemeteries of the French Riviera

My contribution to this month’s All About France blog link-up hosted by Lou Messugo is nothing at all to do with Christmas.  In fact, it’s as unfestive as you can get but I thought I would write about dark tourism and some of the famous people who lived and are laid to rest in the cemeteries on the French Riviera.

What is Dark Tourism?

Dark tourism is travel (and tourism) that involves visiting places connected to death, tragedy or disaster.   There is a growing interest in places that historically may have been off-limits to visit, but there’s no denying that people are attracted to sites like this.

War tourism – visiting battlefields and famous fortresses – has been firmly stamped on tourism sectors for decades, and now tour operators are expanding their tour itineraries to cater for dark tourism.  Everyone from National Geographic to the Economist is debating whether it’s the right thing to do.  Regardless, this market for tourism is here to stay.

Some of the world’s most popular dark tourism locations include visiting the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to see the gravesites of Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf, seeing the Phnom Sampeau killing caves in Cambodia, visiting Chernobyl’s fallout zone or learning about the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps.

pere lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is one of the world’s most visited cemeteries

It does seem strange to say a location is ‘popular’ because of its macabre or sombre history, but you’ll find wherever there is death or tragedy a tour operator will be waiting in the wings to snap up income from keen tourists.

Dark Tourism on the French Riviera 

The sunny French Riviera doesn’t escape dark tourism.  While we always see promotional tourism here highlight the beaches, the Riviera lifestyle and year-round activities, there are many tourists who are visiting to catch a slice of history and follow in the footsteps of famous people who lived, and more profoundly died here.

It could be possible I’m the only blogger highlighting the region’s cemeteries as a tourism attraction?!   Undoubtedly, not only do cemeteries on the Côte d’Azur have famous ‘residents’, but many of them occupy prime real estate with some of the best views in south-east France!

cemetery in menton

You can’t deny this spectacular view! Vieux Château cemetery in Menton (image: Menton Tourism)

Here are some grave ramblings for the French Riviera:

Paul Ricard

The founder of Ricard pastis bought the tiny Île de Bendor at Bandol which is home to two museums – the Exposition Universelle des Vins et Spiritueux that houses thousands of bottles and glasses, and the Museum of Advertising Objects that is dedicated to pastis advertising.  Near Le Brusc, the Île de Embiez was bought by the Ricard Trust and is a tourist getaway from the mainland with no traffic jams, pleasant restaurants and walking trails.  Paul Ricard is buried there at the highest point on the island overlooking the sea.

paul ricard grave

The Île des Embiez is the final resting place of pastis icon, Paul Ricard

Roger Vadim

Roger Vadim was a director, producer, writer and actor and is perhaps just as well known for his many marriages (including to Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda) as his films such as And God Created Woman (1956) and Barbarella (1968).

He died in Paris in 2000 but is buried at the Cimetière Marin in Saint-Tropez – his tomb goes unnoticed to many visitors as it says ‘Vadim Plémiannikov’, not Roger Vadim. 

cemetery st tropez

The Cimetière Marin in St Tropez with sea views (image:  Axel Hupfelds)

This seaside cemetery in Saint-Tropez beneath the Citadelle has a host of interesting people buried there such as Alexandre de Paris who was a celebrated French hairdresser who created Elizabeth Taylor’s hairstyle for Cleopatra, Brigitte Bardot’s’ parents, painter Henri Manguin and jazz figure Edouard Ruault (Eddie Barclay) who has a tombstone decorated with LPs.

cemetery st tropez

Eddie Barclay’s gravesite in Cimetière Marin in St Tropez (image: mapio)

Jean Marais

Jean Marais was a French actor, director, writer and sculptor who acted in over 100 films including Jean Cocteau’s 1946  Beauty and the Beast.  He received an Honorary César Award in 1993 (Césars are the national film award of France).  Five years later, he passed away in Cannes and was buried in the village cemetery in Vallauris.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso is one of the most recognised names in creative arts and was a familiar figure in Côte d’Azur art circles. He lived and worked in his villa Mas Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins, nicknamed the Minotaur’s Lair.

mas notre dame de vie

Mas Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins was Pablo Picasso’s last home (image: Christies)

The villa was previously owned by the Guinness family of Irish beer fame.  Picasso died at his villa in April 1973, but he isn’t actually buried in Mougins – he is buried in the grounds of Château de Vauvenargues.

The villa was sold by auction in October 2017 for €20.2 million.  Video : Picasso’s Mas Notre-Dame-de-Vie

Marc Chagall

‘When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is’ – Pablo Picasso 

Marc Chagall was born in Belarus and created works in many styles including painting, ceramics and stained glass.  His stained glass projects can be seen everywhere from the ‘Peace Window’ he created for the United Nations building in New York to the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Reims.

While he is best known for his art, he also worked as a theatrical designer including a commission to create the set and costumes for the New York Metropolitan Opera’s performance in the late 1960’s of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  His association with France was lengthy and he received France’s highest accolade, the Grand Medal of the Legion of Honor in 1977 and left a rich legacy of work.

The Musée National Marc Chagall is one of the top cultural attractions in Nice and is the largest public collection in the world dedicated to over 800 of his artworks, predominantly his art inspired by religion.

musee marc chagall

Musée National Marc Chagall in Nice is the largest public collection of Marc Chagall’s work (image: Musées Nationaux)

Marc Chagall is buried in the cemetery below the town walls in the hilltop town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.  Aimé and Marguerite Maeght who founded the nearby Fondation Maeght art museum are also buried in this cemetery.

Yves Klein

You may be familiar with the striking artworks of Yves Klein who was born in Nice and remembered for the Nouveau Réalisme movement.

In particular, his vivid blue works are quite memorable – you can see his 1962 Venus Bleue at the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (Mougins Museum of Classical Art) where it is displayed beside Venus interpretations by Cézanne, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.   There aren’t many places in the world where you can find artwork from these 4 artists in the same display cabinet!

Klein died in Paris and is buried in the cemetery in La-Colle-sur-Loup.  I’m sure he’d love tourists to the French Riviera to visit the Mougins Classical Art Museum because it really is a fantastic collection of interesting and rare pieces.   .

mougins classical art

The Venus cabinet at the Mougins Museum of Classical Art holds Venus Bleue by Yves Klein

Henri Matisse

Matisse lived in Nice for 37 years and it is here that his presence on the French Riviera is most significant.  He is well known for his work on the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, but the Musée Matisse is the crowning achievement of his legacy.

musee matisse

Musée Matisse is located at Cimiez and the neighbouring cemetery has Matisse’s grave

The museum is located in Cimiez and Matisse is buried in the neighbouring Cimetière du Monastère de Cimiez which also has the grave of artist Raoul Dufy.

Isadora Duncan

The Promenade des Anglais in Nice was where American dancer Isadora Duncan tragically lost her life in 1927 in a freak accident.  Known as ‘the barefoot dancer’, she was driving along the road and her scarf blew over the side of the car and wrapped around a wheel, dragging her from the car and breaking her neck.  A small street is named after her, rue Isadora Duncan, leading off Promenade des Anglais.

Emil Jellinek

The name may not ring a bell, but Emil (Emile) Jellinek had a firm influence on the automobile industry.  Born in Germany in 1853, he worked at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) autos and proposed to car designers to create a lighter vehicle with a bigger engine.

The result was the Mercedes 35hp and it lead Wilhelm Werner to claim the first victory for Mercedes in a car race, the Nice-Salon-Nice in 1901.  Jellinek’s world-famous trademark he launched in 1902 was named after his daughter, Mercédès.  He changed his surname to Jellinek-Mercédès in 1903.

mercedes nice salon nice

The 392 kilometre Nice-Salon-Nice race in 1901 was won by a Mercedes car for the first time (image: Daimler Media)

He came to Nice and later worked as the Austro-Hungarian Consulate General owning properties on the Promenade des Anglais – Villa Mercedes at number 57, Villa Mercedes II at number 54 as well as hotel Le Royal.  The family yachts on the French Riviera were also not surprisingly christened Mercedes and Mercedes-Mercedes.   His daughter Mercédès supposedly married her first husband Baron Karl van Schossler in Nice, but I couldn’t find any record of where their huge wedding was held.  I’m sure the details are part of Daimler’s archives 🙂

Monsieur Mercedes as Emil (Emile) Jellinek-Mercédès was nicknamed, is laid to rest in the tomb of his first wife Rachel Goggman Cenrobert in the Cimetière Colline du Château at Castle Hill (Colline du Château) in Nice.

emil jellenik mercedes

Emil (Emile) Jellinek-Mercédès , Pioneer of Automobiles, is buried in the Cimetière Colline du Château in Nice

This cemetery and the adjacent Jewish cemetery have amazing views over Nice.  There are thousands of graves with some elaborate and beautiful tombstones and cenotaphs.

Many notable people are buried here including:

  • Writer Gaston Leroux
  • Director and screenwriter Georges Lautner
  • René Goscinny who was one of the creators of French comic book Asterix
  • Garibaldi’s mother Rosa Garibaldi
  • Alfred van Cleef of the Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery family
  • Caroline ‘La Belle’ Otéro who was a famous actress/courtesan/dancer whose breasts supposedly inspired the dome design of the Intercontinental Carlton hotel in Cannes
  • Menica Rondelly who wrote the Niçois anthem Nissa la Bella
  • The daughter of Henri Matisse
  • Polishman Baron Leon Wladyslaw Loewenstein of Lenval, who founded Lenval Hospital in Nice after the death of his son in Nice at 11 years of age

Cimetière Colline du Château has wide-reaching views over Nice (image: Tripadvisor)

To reach the cemeteries, you can take the stairs or elevator from the end of Quai des États-Unis up to Parc du Château or walk up Montée Menica Rondelly from Place Ste Claire in Nice Old Town.  The petit train (white tourist train) also goes up to the park.

Brothers in arms

War cemeteries are places of loss, remembrance and sadness but they also have an aura of calm.  One such cemetery that has a picturesque setting is the Belgian Military Cemetery that is located at Pointe Saint-Hospice on the St Jean Cap Ferrat peninsula with a chapel there having a lovely outlook over the sea.

King Leopold II of Belgium converted Villa Les Cèdres into a military hospital during World War I, however many soldiers succumbed to their injuries received from German gas attacks.  The cemetery is a dedication to 90 Belgian soldiers who lost their lives.   Sadly, the cemetery has graves of brothers who died just months apart so its a very poignant place to visit.  We won’t ever know if they got to appreciate the beautiful setting, but visitors to the peninsula can reflect and remember them here.

Video by Gralon:  Belgian Military Cemetery, St Jean Cap Ferrat (Cimetière militaire des Belges)

Princess Grace  

One of the most famous personalities that captured the hearts of France, Monaco and the world was Grace Kelly, an American actress, who became the Princess of Monaco in 1952 when she married Prince Rainier III.

Her global appeal and classic beauty transcended from life to death; even after she lost her life after a car crash on a road bend at Devil’s Curse above Monaco, over 100 million viewers watched her televised funeral.

grace kelly car crash

Contrary to popular belief Grace did not die on the road where she filmed the scenes in Hitchcock film ‘To Catch a Thief’. As you can see from this map, the accident site was miles away. Her life support was turned off a few days after the crash (map: Reel Reviews)

If you visit the Principality and are looking for things to do in Monaco, you can follow a free tour in Monaco with information about Grace, or visit her tomb beside Prince Rainier in the Grimaldi family vault inside the Monaco Cathedral, the same church where they wed.

Other well-known people who are laid to rest in Monaco include entertainer Josephine Baker, artist Jean-Michel Folon who was commissioned for murals at Waterloo station on the London Tube and designs for Puccini’s opera La Bohème, English writer Anthony Burgess who penned A Clockwork Orange and Iranian Princess Ashraf Pahlavi who are all buried in the Monaco cemetery near the Jardin Exotique.

Le Corbusier

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born in Switzerland and moved to Paris where he took the pseudonym he is best known for, Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier changed the face of modern architecture and his furniture and buildings are contemporary studies for design and technology.   Seventeen of his works over seven countries are UNESO World Heritage-listed.

He drowned off the coast of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and is buried in the Roquebrune cemetery.  There is a lovely coastal walking path from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin to Monaco named after him, Promenade Le Corbusier, and you can visit his minimalist beach cabanon as well as Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 by booking through Cap Moderne.

corbusiers cabanon

Le Corbusier’s Cabanon can be visited by booking through Cap Moderne

William Webb Ellis

Englishman William Webb Ellis was credited for creating the game of rugby and keen rugby enthusiasts will agree that his final resting place has one of the best views on the French Riviera.  The Vieux Château cemetery in Menton is worth a visit and has spectacular panoramic views over Menton and the sea.

webb ellis grave

William Webb Ellis’ gravesite in the Vieux Chateau cemetery in Menton

Interestingly, I already knew that the trophy awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup is named the Webb Ellis Cup but I didn’t realise that Menton has a rugby-specific trail that features 25 plaques about rugby starting at the Menton train station and leading to the cemetery.  Something I learned while researching this blog and definitely a potential blog topic for the future!

Thanks for reading my post.  I’ve researched a fair bit and learned a lot about famous lives and deaths on the French Riviera.  Have you been to any famous cemeteries or dark tourism sites in France or around the world?

Lou Messugo
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2 thoughts on “Grave Ramblings: Dark Tourism and the Cemeteries of the French Riviera

  1. What an interesting post! I never knew so many famous people were buried around the Cote d’Azur! It looks like it really is worth visiting the cemetaries on the coast, even if it’s just for the stunning views over the Mediterranean Sea!

    Like

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