Where can you find famous foreigners buried in France?

English kings, American superstars, Irish writers and the supposed inventor of rugby are among the famous figures buried in France. Here's where to find their graves to pay your respects.

A lady mourns at the grave of Jim Morrison, at the 50th anniversary of his death in 2021.
A lady mourns at the grave of Jim Morrison, at the 50th anniversary of his death in 2021. (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

Since the medieval period, France has served as an influential economic and cultural powerhouse, so it is no surprise that the country draws famous figures from around the world, many of whom are eventually buried here. 

Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris offers walking tours and maps of the graves of famous people, but memorials for other high-profile people buried in France are a little harder to find. 

Gertrude Stein 

American Gertrude Stein was an important literary figure who spent much of her life in France. She is best known for organising artistic salons which would draw together figures like Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, F Scott Fitzgerald and Henri Matisse. Stein is credited as fostering the cultural melting pot that made Paris such an engine of creativity in the 20th century.

She was also a writer in her own right. Stein died aged 72 in 1946 and was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. 

Henry II

Henry II was the King of England from 1133-1189 and also controlled large swathes of northern and western France.

During his reign, he set the foundations of what would later become English Common Law. Henry II was married to Eleanor d’Aquitaine but had many children out of wedlock and was recently described by the Rest is History podcast as a “massive lad”.  He was best known for ordering the killing of Archbishop Thomas Beckett who had threatened him with excommunication.

Henry II was born in France and spent much of his life here supervising his huge realm. He collapsed after a disastrous battle and was buried in Fontevraud Abbey, which is in between Tours and Angers.

Richard the Lionheart

Henry’s third son, Richard I, went on to become Richard the Lionheart of England. He was killed by a crossbow while fighting in France (the crossbowman was later flayed alive and hung). His body was laid to rest alongside his mother and father at Fontevraud Abbey while his heart was placed in a tomb in Rouen cathedral. 

Leonardo da Vinci 

Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate renaissance man. A scientist, inventor, artist and engineer, he is widely considered a genius.

Da Vinci spent most of his life in what is now Italy, where he was born, but moved to France at the invitation of the king for three years up until his death from a probable stroke in 1519. He is buried in the chapel of Saint-Hubert near the entrance of the Château d’Amboise, in the Loire valley. 

Pablo Picasso 

Another giant of the art world, Pablo Picasso is most famous for his Guernica painting which captured the chaos of the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish painter lived much of his life in France and was based in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Picasso died in 1973 and was interred in the Château of Vauvenargues in Aix-en-Provence – a property he owned. 

Philip Astley 

Philip Astley is widely considered as the father of the modern circus.

Born in 1742, this Englishman integrated clowns, animals and acrobats into his shows and became so famous that Louis XV of France invited him to perform at the Palace of Versailles. In 1782, Astley created the first ever purpose-built circus in France – a place known as the Cirque Anglais in Paris – which was later destroyed in a fire. Suffering badly from gout, he died in 1814 and is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. 

Samuel Beckett 

Celebrated Irish writer Samuel Beckett is best known for his absurdist style. Born in Dublin, he studied languages at university and moved to Paris where he held several academic posts. His most famous work, Waiting for Godot, was originally written in French.

Beckett died of emphysema in 1989 and was buried with his wife in Paris’ Montparnasse cemetery. When asked what kind of gravestone he wanted, Beckett reportedly replied “any colour, so long as it is grey”. 

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag was a prominent American 20th century intellectual, philosopher, writer and critic. She died in New York aged 71 but was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris – a city where she had studied at the Sorbonne. 

Saint Thomas Aquinas 

Thomas Aquinas was born in what is now Italy in the 13th century and is known as one of the most important christian thinkers of all time. He spent much of his life developing philosophical arguments for the existence of God and remains highly influential today. He died in 1274 and is buried in the Jacobins Convent in Toulouse. 

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill was an English philosopher, MP economist and early proponent of utilitarianism – a moral belief that says actions leading to happiness are right and those leading to suffering are wrong. He believed that actions should be guided by what should brings the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people. Mill died in 1873 and is buried in the Saint-Véran cemetery in Avignon. 

Jim Morrison

Best known as the lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison died in in Paris in 1971, aged 27. The official cause of his death was heart failure but no autopsy was performed and some eyewitnesses at the time suggested that Morrison had suffered a heroin overdose.

The iconic American frontman is buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery where is grave remains a place of pilgrimage for fans. 

Josephine Baker 

French-American dancer, singer, actress and rights activist Josephine Baker became the first black woman to be inducted into France’s Pantheon mausoleum of revered historical figures in November 2021, nearly half a century after her death.

Nicknamed the “Black Venus”, Baker took Paris by storm with her exuberant dance performances in the 1920s and 30s, capturing the energy of the Jazz Age. She worked for the French resistance during the war and after the war campaigned for Civil Rights. 

She is buried in Monaco, where she was living for the last years of her life, and her family opted against having her body moved to the Panthéon, but visitors can pay homage to her memorial in the Paris mausoleum.

Oscar Wilde 

The brilliant Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. The Importance of Being Earnest is among his most famous works, dealing with hidden identities and oppressive Victorian society. Wilde was prosecuted under English anti-gay laws and served two years in prison in London.

After his release – shunned by English society – he moved to France where he remained until his death from meningitis in 1900. Wilde was initially buried in the the Bagneux cemetery outside Paris but his body was moved to Père Lachaise in 1909. The latter tomb was engraved with an angel, complete with male genitalia, which was censored by French authorities with a golden leaf. A glass barrier now surrounds the tomb, which has to be regularly cleaned of all the lipstick marks left on it over the years. 

Vincent van Gogh

One of the most famous painters in Western art history, the Dutch Vincent van Gogh died a poor man in France from suicide in 1890, at the age of just 37.

In a cruel twist of fate, it was only after his death that his works began to sell at prices that would have lifted the post-impressionist from poverty. Van Gogh’s body is buried in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise, a little to the northwest of Paris. His last words were reportedly “the sadness will last forever”. 

Wilfred Owen 

Wildred Owen, one of the most famous poets of World War I, was tragically killed crossing the Sambre-Oise Canal in northern France just one week before the Armistice in 1918.

He is buried in the Ors cemetery in northern France, where his tombstone is engraved with a line from one of his poems: “Shall life renew these bodies? Of a truth all death will he annul”. 

William Webb-Ellis

William Webb-Ellis is the man who, according to legend, who created the game of rugby. As a student of Rugby school in the early 20th century, he was thought to have picked up the ball during a football game and run the length of the pitch with it. Most historians discount this story as a myth but the Webb-Ellis Cup remains the name of the trophy given the the winners of the Rugby World Cup every four years.

Webb-Ellis died in the south of France in 1872, having travelled there in an attempt to cure his TB, and is buried in le cimetière du vieux château in Menton, Alpes-Maritimes. 

Member comments

  1. I think Rudolph Nureyev was omitted on this list of world renowned artists. I hope one day to visit his grave in Paris

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OPINION: The Arc de Triomphe roundabout is an emblem of Paris, so don’t destroy it

The famous Arc de Triomphe roundabout is "a symbol of Parisian exceptionalism, a microcosm of France, an automotive wonder of the world", says John Lichfield. So why does the mayor want to destroy it?

OPINION: The Arc de Triomphe roundabout is an emblem of Paris, so don't destroy it

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, does not lack courage.

Fresh from her 1.7 percent score in the presidential election, she plans to destroy a Parisian icon: the 12-lane traffic jacuzzi which surrounds the Arc de Triomphe.

Mayor Hidalgo is already under fire for her other assaults on the Parisian streetscape. Personally, I have no problem with the proliferation of cycle lanes. I do object to the bizarre, new forms of street furniture which have replaced some traditional benches and street-lights.

But now the mayor has finally gone too far. The traffic free-for-all at the Etoile at the top of the Champs Elysées is as emblematic of Paris as the Eiffel Tower or the triumphal arch which stands in the centre of this maman et papa of all roundabouts.

Ms Hidalgo plans to reduce the space for traffic by one third, reducing the number of theoretical lanes from 12 to eight. The work is to begin almost immediately as part of a bigger plans to make the Champs Elysées smarter and greener before the Paris Olympics in 2024.

READ ALSO: How Paris plans to transform the Champs-Elysées

That is all very well but she is destroying a symbol of Parisian exceptionalism, a microcosm of France, an automotive wonder of the world. 

How on earth do you drive around a twelve-lane roundabout where there seem to be no rules?

The answer is that there are very strict rules and that just enough people obey them to allow the rest to do as they please.  The Etoile is a mini-France: a blend of brute individualism with the Republican values of mutual respect and solidarity.

In the last 24 years I must have driven around the Etoile at least 5,000 times. Each time I approach, I feel my knuckles clench on the steering wheel, as if I were in a bomber approaching its target zone. I have never had an accident. I have only once seen an accident.

In theory, priority is always from the right. Some people, like me, charge into the centre, trusting that the other traffic will give way as it is supposed to. I then try to twist and turn my way out.

Others rush blindly in and then rush blindly out again.

A few, like my ex-neighbour Bénedicte, wander around the outside, blocking all the exit and entrance lanes in turn. Challenged on her anti-social technique, she said: “Rules? You have to be an imbecile to obey the rules.”

Reducing the Etoile to eight lanes, when there are 12 avenues radiating from it, sounds to me like a blue-print for disaster. The strange blend of rules and rule-breaking, conventions and moods which govern the place will be catastrophically disturbed.

An aerial view taken taken on July 11, 2019 shows the Arch of Triumph (Arc de Triomphe) in Paris. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The Etoile has some claim to be the world’s first roundabout (other candidates exist).  Until 1907, the traffic, mostly horse-drawn was allowed to go around in any direction that it fancied. That must have been fun.

Eugène Hénard, the architect for the City of Paris, ordered that traffic should go around anti-clockwise and make way for vehicles entering from the right.  And so it has been ever since.

Until the 1970s, other roundabouts – “rond-points” or “carrefour giratoires” (circular cross-roads) – were rare in France. Half a century ago, it was decided that too many people were killing themselves on ordinary cross-roads because they ignored or got confused by the rule awarding priority to the right.

Since then France has undertaken a monumental programme of roundabout building. The country now has at least  30,000 roundabouts and some people insist 40,000. Even accepting the lower figure, France is reckoned to have half of all the roundabouts in the world (three times as many as the UK).

 Another 500 roundabouts are built in France each year. Every small town wants at least one. They have lyrical names like Rond Point des Lilas. They are sometimes decorated with sculptures. They often have flower-beds. During the Gilets Jaunes movement  in 2018 and 2019, they became the multiple epicentre of social rebellion.

But these are not charge-on and hope-for-the-best  roundabouts like the Etoile. You have tamely to give way to the traffic already on the rond-point. They are, I fear,  polite and predictable and unFrench. They are almost British. (It was in fact Britain which invented that kind of roundabout in the 1920s.)

I would beg Anne Hidalgo to reconsider her decision to truncate the Etoile. She has charged into this decision without giving a thought to the priority that should be accorded to French or Parisian history and tradition. She might as well have decided to remove the top storey from the Eiffel Tower.

An eight-lane Etoile would no-longer be a shining star of French exceptionalism. It would be a dwarf star, even a black hole.