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February 13, 2011


A Parisian Disgrace

by soundlandscapes

On Saturday I had a very interesting afternoon – a walk in the 17th arrondissement, discovering new sights and sounds. I walked from La Fourche to the Cemetière-des-Batignolles – a walk that one can do along the Avenue de Clichy in fifteen or twenty minutes but which on Saturday took me four hours! I made many diversions discovering new streets and many Parisian secrets that I had not come across before – like this one:

Eglise Saint-Michel-des-Batignolles

The end of my walk brought me to the Cemetière-des-Batignolles.

In life, most of us search for quiet moments of peace and tranquillity. For us city-dwellers that is often hard to come by. But in death, peace and tranquillity must surely be an entitlement. But not it seems if you are entombed in the Cemetière-des-Batignolles!

My visit to this cemetery both engaged and enraged me. It engaged me because I could feel this blog piece coming on – it enraged me because it seems that, when the so-called public interest takes precedence, respect – especially for the dead – seems to fly out of the window. The public interest in this case being the need to build a ring road encircling Paris.  The work began in 1958 and was completed in 1973.

Just think about it – at some point a city official, a fonctionnaire – overpaid, over-holidayed and over-pensioned – decided to attach his (it could have only been a man!) seal of approval to the building of a multi-lane ring road – known as a beltway in the US I believe – or the Périphérique as it’s known here in Paris, right over the top of the graves in this cemetery.

It is simply outrageous and a disgrace!

The lady entombed beneath these flowers is still clearly loved and remembered with affection – the fresh flowers speak volumes. But I can’t help feeling that she rests tormented by the dust and grime gathering around her and the sound of the constant traffic passing over the Periph’ above.

There are no exciting, glamorous or romantic sounds of Paris here – just the constant, repetitive and ugly sounds that the dead have to endure.

I recorded this sound at the foot of the lady’s grave:

The Cemetière-des-Batignolles was here first, long before the Périphérique was even thought of! It was founded in 1833, expanded in 1847 and expanded again in 1883.

The Russian opera singer, Feodor Chaliapin was buried here until the Soviet Union demanded the return of his remains. Chaliapin was lucky because today, the bodies that are buried here are denied any peace and tranquillity – instead they suffer constant noise pollution and for those lying under, or close to, the monstrous structure of the Périphérique overhead, the constant stream of traffic dust lies thick on their graves. “Ashes to ashes – dust to dust” has never been truer than it is here.

To Georges Pompidou, under whose Presidential reign this sacrilege was perpetrated, and to the fonctionnaires responsible for approving the plans, I say again – this is a disgrace. Shame on you!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 13 2011

    A poignant post, that sadly reflects so many of the realities of urban life. Cities are built in layers, and new is piled on top of the old, but this is normally done with some sensitivity. This case is such a contrast to some of Paris’s better known graveyards.

  2. Feb 13 2011

    There is something similar in the Cimitière de Montmartre, and in Levallois where a busy railway line rushes by (within earshot of Gustav Eiffel’s tomb!)

    This is ugly, but it must be a sign of something quite interesting. The underground in these places must be sacred, but there are perhaps few controls over the space above!

  3. Feb 1 2015

    Have you been to the Montmartre cemetery. It also has a noisy bridge over the top of it. In spite of your critique I would suggest the people in graves are not capable of hearing the noise from the traffic. They are, after all, dead. However, it may be annoying to the people who pay their respects. However, the bridge over the tombstones probably protects them from deteriorating because of the elements.

    • Feb 1 2015

      Thank you for your comment Rory.

      Personally, I find the much less noisy and far more elegant bridge over a small part of the Montmartre cemetery much less offensive than the hideous and oppressive underside of the Périphérique.


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