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Monaco Cemetery: 150 years of history

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Monaco's cemetery was build in 1868 - © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

This unique and constantly renovated site has been the eternal resting place of Monegasques and residents, including some celebrities, since 1868.

Above Monaco, on the border with Cap d’Ail, Monaco Cemetery looks out to sea. It is emblematic of the Principality and its heritage, and has a lot of history… and stories!

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To tell us all about them, Pascal Blanc, Director of Somotha*, gave us a detailed tour, full of anecdotes and memories, of the spot where members of the great Monegasque families are now buried. But they’re not alone: residences as well as Monegasques are buried in Monaco, including some well-known figures such as Joséphine Baker, Sir Roger Moore, Anthony Burgess, Marie Bell, Jules Bianchi, Louis Chiron, Anthony Noghès and Léo Ferré.

As we wandered around the 20,390 square metres – spread over several levels – that the Cemetery occupies, we couldn’t help but notice the special care that is taken over maintaining the premises. In fact, since the cemeteries of the Saint-Nicolas and Sainte-Dévote parishes and Saint-Martin chapel merged in 1868, so as to have one place of remembrance in Monaco, it has undergone many alterations to extend, protect and embellish the site.

Newly renovated galleries

The most notable examples are to be found in the galleries, which are named after flowers, and spread over the different levels, where the memorial plaques are to be found: “at the time the Cemetery was built, the name plaques were set in the cement by small wooden pegs. Over the years, as the wood rotted, the plaques would fall off. So, six or seven years ago, we took all the plaques down and made a new frame with Venetian resin, which isn’t damaged by water. We put the plaques back and took the opportunity to redo the paving in the gallery, in partnership with the Town Hall. The ceilings were also redone. This demonstrates the importance that the Town Hall and the Mayor attach to paying tribute to our deceased and allowing families to pay their respects,” Pascal Blanc explained.

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The galleries have been renovated – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

In addition, further maintenance work is currently underway. “The work is being carried out by the Public Works Department, as part of the îlot Pasteur project. Further work is planned, particularly at the middle entrance, where an underground car park with 30 spaces is due to be built soon. In addition, Somotha will also be carrying out major works at the Athanée, the funeral parlour. More generally, capacity will be increased with 53 additional vaults and 84 niches in the galleries. It is too early to talk about extension plans for the moment, as the work schedule has not been finalised yet,” said Marjorie Crovetto, the Deputy-Mayor whose delegation includes the cemetery.

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Marjorie Crovetto and Pascal Blanc introduced us to Monaco’s cemetery – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

A columbarium that is unique in Europe

Another distinctive feature of the Principality’s Cemetery is its columbarium. “No other site in Europe has the number of columbarium niches that we have in Monaco. There are 546 of them,” says Pascal Blanc. The explanation is simple: in Monaco, 60% of the deceased are cremated.

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Monaco’s columbarium has the largest number of niches in Europe – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

The urns are therefore carefully stored in the columbarium, for a period of 30 years, facing the Mediterranean. Ashes can be scattered in the Garden of Remembrance below. Where appropriate, the names of the deceased are then added to the memorial column in the columbarium. This includes plaques for actor Sir Roger Moore, emblazoned with the family crest and a miniature Volvo, James Bond director Lewis Gilbert, musician Stéphan-Gabriel Formhals, creator of Harpissimo and Formula 1 driver Jules Bianchi.

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F1 driver Jules Bianchi lost his life in 2015, after a tragic accident during the Japanese Grand Prix  – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

Overlooking the galleries and the columbarium stands the pretty, understated chapel, made of imitation stonework. Recently renovated and now accessible for people with disabilities, it hosts 70% of religious ceremonies and blessings today. “The Cemetery is a gathering place. A place for both the celebration and the burial or cremation at the Athanée, the funeral parlour just above,” explains the Director of Somotha.

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Most of the religious ceremonies and blessings take place inside the chapel – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

Honouring the memory of the deceased

The Monaco Cemetery also hosts a number of special ceremonies, which take place in front of the commemorative stele, inaugurated in the presence of Prince Albert II in 2015. It pays tribute to those who were deported from Monaco during the Second World War. The 11th of November is commemorated in front of the stele, as well as the 3rd of September, when Cap d’Ail was liberated. This is also where the ceremony took place when the artist and member of the Resistance Joséphine Baker was admitted to the Pantheon. Her body still lies in the cemetery, in line with her children’s wishes.

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The commemorative stele was unveiled by Prince Albert II, to pay tribute to the people who were deported during WW2 – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

The visit ended with the Garden of Remembrance, where cremation ashes are scattered. A discreet little plot, which Somotha has started to embellish. But perhaps surprisingly, the ashes are not scattered randomly on the flowers and the earth. They are poured into a funnel, and collected in an underground container. When this becomes full, they are then transferred to the ossuaries under the galleries. “Under no circumstances should the ashes leave the cemetery,” stressed Pascal Blanc.

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The funnel where the ashes are poured  – © Paul Charoy / Monaco Tribune

Like the Garden, which is due to undergo further changes in the future, the funeral parlour and the Cemetery continue to evolve as major works are regularly carried out by the Town Hall. The aim is always the same: to honour the Principality’s deceased and keep their memories alive.

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Further information:

Why have Cemetery fees gone up?
Fees were increased to take inflation into account, with an average increase of 5.5%. The fees are published in the Journal de Monaco.

Is there a waiting list?
There is no waiting list for Monegasques. There are resident but non-Monegasque families currently on the waiting list for a burial plot. Pending the increase in capacity, those families were offered a temporary burial spot in the galleries.

What solutions are available if there is a lack of space?
Monegasques are given priority for vaults and niches. The Town Hall manages to meet demand by offering temporary solutions until the end of the works, when there will be additional space.


* Cemetery concession holder and co-manager with the Monaco Town Council